Minnesota coal plan draws North Dakota protest

  • Article by: DALE WETZEL , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 8, 2012 - 9:22 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. - Top North Dakota officials renewed their protests against a plan to discourage Minnesota utilities from meeting new energy demands by using electric power generated by burning coal.

North Dakota's Industrial Commission on Thursday approved a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, arguing utilities should not incur any extra cost for using coal-fired power. At present, the cost is $9 to $34 per ton of carbon dioxide that is given off when coal is burned to provide electricity.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple is the North Dakota commission's chairman. It oversees a state coal research fund, which is financed by North Dakota's tax on lignite mining. The commission's other members are Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

If Minnesota regulators make it more expensive for utilities to use coal power, it will throttle the prospects of western North Dakota's lignite industry, Dalrymple said. Coal-fueled power plants in western North Dakota already provide a major share of Minnesota's electricity.

"It has long-term implications about the growth of the industry from where it is today," Dalrymple said.

The charges were established as part of a 2007 Minnesota law that requires its utilities to produce one-quarter of their energy from renewable sources by 2024.

The law ordered Minnesota regulators to assign environmental costs to coal use, and said utilities would have to include those costs in calculating whether coal was an appropriate choice for meeting future electricity growth demands.

North Dakota officials have protested the law ever since it passed. Minnesota lawmakers approved major changes last year, but Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the revisions.

Cris Kling, a spokeswoman for Fergus Falls, Minn.-based Otter Tail Power Co., said a residential electric customer using about 800 kilowatt-hours of power each month would see an increase in his or her monthly bill from $8 to $24 monthly if the extra costs were imposed on newly generated coal power.

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