Brand new power plant is idled by the economy – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota's second-largest electric company has spent $437 million on a recently completed coal-burning power plant 85 miles west of Fargo. Built with the encouragement of North Dakota's political...

Minnesota’s second-largest electric company has spent $437 million on a recently completed coal-burning power plant 85 miles west of Fargo.

Built with the encouragement of North Dakota’s political leaders, the plant burns lignite mined in that state. It has best-available pollution controls and draws city wastewater instead of fresh water. At full power, the new plant could supply about 63,000 homes.

Instead, owner Great River Energy is shutting it down.

While investing hundreds of millions of dollars in power plants always carries risks, the tale of the Spiritwood Station is an extreme case. The head of an industry trade group couldn’t remember another new U.S. coal plant built to supply power all the time that was immediately mothballed.

A combination of factors made Spiritwood a financial drag on Great River Energy (GRE), a Maple Grove-based wholesale cooperative serving 650,000 customers from the Iowa state line to the Canadian border. These included slower-than-expected growth in electricity demand, lower prices on power sales to the grid and the loss of a key industrial customer for some of the plant’s steam.

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