Great River Energy now has agreements with five wind farms to provide power to help compensate for the planned closure of its massive coal plant in North Dakota by 2023.

Maple Grove-based Great River, the state's second-largest electricity producer, this week announced three new wind-power purchase agreements, mostly in Minnesota. A fourth was unveiled last month, and a fifth was signed in 2019.

"These projects will produce emission-free energy, lower electric rates and provide a much-needed boost as Minnesota's economy recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," Great River CEO David Saggau said in a statement.

In May, Great River announced it would close its 1,151-megawatt Coal Creek Station near Underwood, N.D., the company's primary source of electricity for the past 40 years and one of the Upper Midwest's largest power plants.

After Coal Creek closes, Great River expects two-thirds of its electricity will come from wind turbines.

The three projects unveiled this week are the 170-megawatt Dodge County Wind in Dodge and Steele counties; 280-megawatt Three Waters Wind in Jackson County, Minn., and Osceola and Dickinson counties in Iowa; and 150-megawatt Timberwolf Wind in Fillmore County.

Last year, Great River signed onto a fourth Minnesota project, the 109-megawatt Buffalo Ridge Wind in Lincoln County.

Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources will develop and own those four wind farms, investing $882 million. Great River, a wholesale electricity cooperative, has signed power-purchase agreements of at least 25 years for the four projects.

In November, Great River also signed a long-term power-purchase agreement for a 200-megawatt wind farm in eastern South Dakota being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy.

Great River's decision to close Coal Creek by 2023 would make it the first Upper Midwest electricity producer to exit coal completely.

Due to changes in wholesale electricity markets, U.S. coal-fired power plants have becoming increasingly uneconomical, and Great River said Coal Creek has been losing money for several years.

Rates for Great River's 28 member owners — retail co-ops that together serve about 700,000 Minnesotans — are expected to drop by 13% in 2023 once Coal Creek has closed, Great River has said.

Aside from wind, Great River plans to replace Coal Creek's output with purchases in the regional wholesale electricity market, as well as from a fleet of gas "peaking plants" in Minnesota and a small coal-fired power plant in North Dakota that will be converted to gas.

Peaking plants don't run all the time, and are important for maintaining power flow when demand surges — and the wind is not blowing.

Great River Energy plans to interconnect three of the four Minnesota wind farms to the grid through its existing gas plants, "which will continue to provide core reliability for the grid," the company said in a statement.

Essentially, Great River will take advantage of the transmission connections already available at the gas plants.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week voted unanimously to approve the Buffalo Ridge wind project. Permit applications for the other three projects are expected to be submitted to the PUC next year.

Buffalo Ridge is expected to come online in 2021. The other four wind farms are slated to start production in 2022 and 2023. Great River currently has a capacity of 660 megawatts of wind power, which it draws primarily from six wind developments.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003