Arrowhead Electric Cooperative is headquartered in Lusten. Submitted image
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Arrowhead board supports plan to continue purchasing electricity produced by coal

Great River Energy, the parent company of Arrowhead Electric Cooperative in Lutsen, moved forward this summer with its plans to sell a financially troubled coal-fueled power plant in North Dakota.

In July, the Arrowhead Board of Directors endorsed a deal that includes purchasing electricity from the factory’s new owner, Rainbow Energy.

Rainbow Energy plans to keep operating the plant, formerly known as Coal Creek, and proposes on-site carbon capture and storage, a costly and largely untested way of operating a coal plant. Rainbow is a subsidiary of Bismarck-based United Energy Corp., which also is involved in oil and gas production and exploration.

Coal-fueled power plants in western North Dakota historically have provided a major share of Minnesota’s electric supply, according to the Associated Press.

Rainbow Energy President Stacy Tschider has said that within five years of purchasing the plant, the company would incorporate technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions by injecting them underground for permanent storage. This method of operating a coal plant is extremely expensive and has been largely unsuccessful in the United States. For example, the nation’s only carbon capture coal plant that was in operation closed earlier this year.

Adding another layer to the complexity of the situation was an op-ed piece published earlier this year in the Duluth News Tribune. The op-ed is from a representative of the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative public-policy think tank based in Minnesota. While urging rural cooperatives, including Arrowhead Electric in Cook County, to vote in support of keeping the coal plant online, the Center of the American Experiment also made note of future mining operations tapping into this energy, including the proposed Twin Metals mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In the op-ed, published July 24, an official from the Center of the American Experiment writes: “Rural electric co-op board members in Northeastern Minnesota should vote to approve this sale because doing so will provide reliable, low-cost electricity to Minnesota’s mining industry. Mining is an energy-intensive industry. The Minntac mine in Mountain Iron reportedly uses more electricity and natural gas than the entire city of Minneapolis. Electricity demand for mining will only grow as Minnesota’s fledgling copper-nickel mining industry becomes an established part of the state’s economy. The continued operation of Coal Creek will provide a critical supply of electricity to the Twin Metals mine.”

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative General Manager and CEO John Twiest about the sale of Coal Creek and what this means for local co-op members . Audio below.

There are 28 electric cooperatives under the umbrella of Great River Energy. All of them were tasked with voting this summer on the situation involving Rainbow Energy. Twenty-six of the cooperatives voted to support the plan, Twiest said, including a unanimous vote by the Arrowhead board.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.