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Commissioner: EPA regulations could threaten ND power grid

By   /   January 28, 2014  /   No Comments

By Rob Port | WatchDog.org North Dakota Bureau

EPA THREAT: North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann sees proposed EPA emissions regulations for power plants as a threat to the state’s power grid amid an economic and population boom.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Oil train derailments and a Canadian pipeline explosion that left North Dakota’s Red River Valley without power in the midst of subzero temperatures has energy infrastructure in the headlines. But one state official says the Environmental Protection Agency is “threatening” North Dakota’s power system with new emission regulations, which, he says, are impossible to comply with.

“This is not an attempt to close down power plants,” EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said during the event, according to the Bismarck Tribune. “Coal needs to be part of our energy future.” But Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann says proposed emissions regulations for new power plants tell a different story, one that could mean a bottleneck for power in a growing state.

The EPA is taking public comment on a proposed cap of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity generated for new power plants. Now, coal-fired power plants average about 2,250 pounds per megawatt hour. During the symposium last week Christmann asked McGrath how the EPA arrived at the proposed lower number. “McGrath said he didn’t have the specific data on hand but would be able to provide the PSC with that information,” reported the Tribune.

“It seems like they’re just picking a number that can’t be met,” Christmann said in an interview. That could cause problems in a state that has been leading the nation in both economic and population growth. Oil operations, not to mention tens of thousands of new residents, are creating more demand for power.

Christmann says that while North Dakota produces far more power than it needs, most of that power generation has already been contracted for and sold to out-of-state buyers. New demand in state will have to be met with new generation capacity. With the EPA set to propose tougher emissions regulations for existing power plants as well later this summer, Christmann says “regulatory uncertainty”is impeding the construction of that additional capacity.

“Nothing is in the planning stages for new coal plants,” Christmann said.

Eventually what the EPA is proposing could be something North Dakota power producers could comply with. “North Dakota’s geology lends itself well to enhanced oil recovery with carbon,” Christmann said, referring to one possible use of carbon gas produced through coal-fired electrical generation. “North Dakota can be a powerhouse.”

But Christmann said the day when that’s feasible is still at least a decade away.

Contact Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org.

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Rob Port