Coal Plants Adapt To Follow Demand

Aug 2, 2017
Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Facing competition from renewables and cheap natural gas, coal-fired power plants are learning they must adjust to survive.

For decades, many coal plants burned coal as fast as their facilities could handle.

"The best way they operate is you turn them on, you run them up as high as you can, and you let them run for days," said Dale Niezwaag, vice president of government relations for Basin Electric Power Cooperative.


Amy Sisk / Inside Energy



If the coal industry is to survive, its savior may be something often touted by President Donald Trump when he talks energy.

“We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal,” he said earlier this year in announcing an executive order to roll back the emission-targeting Clean Power Plan.

In North Dakota, Will Wind Keep The Lights On?

May 16, 2017
Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Steven Somsen’s farm has looked the same his entire life -- it’s flat, with wheat and soybeans that will soon grow as far as the eye can see.

But the 61-year-old’s view changed last year.

“Those are the closest ones to us, but they’re not our towers,” he said, pointing to several nearby wind turbines. “That’s the neighbors’. Ours are way, way off in there.”

One hundred wind turbines dot the farmland around his rural community of Courtenay in eastern North Dakota. Somsen has three on his land.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

The coal industry is breathing a sigh of relief with Donald Trump about to enter the White House.

He campaigned on an energy platform that would strip away Obama administration regulations on the fossil fuel industry. Chief among them: the Clean Power Plan.

State sues over 'stream rule'

Dec 21, 2016

The state of North Dakota has filed suit in federal court to stop a new Interior Department rule designed to protect streams from adverse impacts of coal mining.

State officials say the new rule was written with Appalachia in mind – and doesn’t work with open pit lignite mines.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission regulates lignite mining. Commissioner Randy Christmann said the rule would be devastating for the industry.

“What they’re proposing to do here effectively takes a good part of our coal reserves and makes them impossible to mine,” said Christmann.

Western energy states see unemployment jump

Jun 21, 2016

Several western states whose economies depend heavily on the fossil fuel industry have seen major jumps in unemployment. Inside Energy’s Amy Sisk has more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Colorado’s unemployment rate went up significantly in May. Over the past year, rates in Wyoming and North Dakota grew faster than any other state. Plummeting prices for coal, oil and natural gas hit workers hard. In Wyoming.

Dave Thompson

The federal deputy assistant secretary for clean coal and carbon management says he believes fossil fuels will be a part of the nation’s energy mix for years to come.

David Mohler spoke to the annual “Mid-America Regulatory Conference” in Bismarck. He was formerly with Duke Energy.

In an interview, Mohler said that would include all forms of carbon-based fuels, including coal.

"I've been in the business long enough now to see cycles," Mohler said. "Today, everyone's building natural gas for electricity generation, because natural gas is so cheap."

North Dakota’s four lignite coal mines sold 28.7 million tons of lignite in 2015.

That’s the same amount as in 2014. But it’s a million tons above 2013.

This comes as national reports show coal production dropping.

"The fact that, in North Dakota, coal remained steady is good news for the industry, and also for the state, which relies on taxes from the energy industry," said Steve Van Dyke, a spokesman for the Lignite Energy Council. "Also for counties and schools inj Coal Country."

Christmann: BLM coal not economically feasible to mine

Aug 13, 2015

The Federal Bureau of Land Management has been holding “listening sessions” on a proposal to raise lease rates on coal mined on federal lands.

One such session was held in Billings, Montana. North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann was there. He says he pointed out that BLM coal tracts in North Dakota are very small, surrounded by privately-owned or state-owned land. Christmann says even at current prices, BLM coal is not very lucrative.

Inside Energy: Future of Coal Part Two

Apr 14, 2015


The American West is now coal’s new home base.  Production has dipped slightly in Wyoming, but the state still produces 40% of the nation’s coal – far more than any other state.  As part of Inside Energy’s series on the Future of Coal, Reporter Clay Scott went to America’s current capital of coal, and found the industry’s imprint on the West runs deep.  

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