Save the coyote
North Dakota energy will benefit from Otter Tail Power’s decision to walk away.
The Otter Tail Power Company made headlines when it announced it would seek to withdraw from its 35 percent ownership of the Coyote Station, a lignite-based electric generating plant located in Beulah, ND. This announcement garnered plenty of criticism in North Dakota, but Otter Tail’s exit from the plant is actually the best-case scenario for the plant’s long-term operation.
Center of the American Experiment has voiced strong support for North Dakota coal plants. It recently collected nearly 900 signatures urging Minnesota co-op board members to support the sale of the Coal Creek Station, another lignite plant, located near Underwood, ND. John Weeda, director of the North Dakota Transmission Authority, has used American Experiment-generated graphs in presentations to show how Coal Creek delivered more electricity to the grid during multiple hours of the polar vortex of 2021 than the entire regional wind fleet combined.
The Coyote Station will benefit from Otter Tail’s exit because policymakers and members of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in Minnesota are making the dangerous and unwise decisions to prioritize renewables over reliability and affordability. This unfortunate political reality no doubt influenced Otter Tail’s decision to divest from the plant.
Critics charge that Minnesota’s PUC is a dysfunctional mess and largely beholden to well-funded wind and solar special interest groups. These groups have successfully cowed the PUC into delaying the transfer of the high-voltage transmission line that transports electricity generated at the Coal Creek Station to Minnesota for purely ideological reasons, even though Rainbow Energy has said they plan to install carbon capture and sequestration technology on the plant to reduce emissions.
Coyote will likely need upgrades in order to comply with the EPA’s “regional haze rules,” and it is unlikely that the Minnesota PUC will allow Otter Tail to recoup those costs from ratepayers. These upgrades will also be opposed by Minnesota’s hyperpartisan Attorney General Keith Ellison. These parties would try to use the needed regional haze upgrades as a reason to shut down the plant, rather than see them as an opportunity to improve the environment.
Finding a new buyer for the plant who does not have the same regulatory and political constraints as Otter Tail is the best-case scenario for Coyote Station and the North Dakota families and businesses who rely on its continued operation. The North Dakota Public Service Commission is a much more reasonable regulatory body than its Minnesota counterpart, and the rest of the Midwest will need Coyote’s reliable, affordable electrons for years to come as Minnesota regulators foolishly shut down our existing coal plants.
A version of this originally appeared in the Fargo Forum.