Great River Energy advances project to aid Spiritwood coal plant start

Great River Energy reported Feb. 8 a key development for the eventual start of operations for the built, but currently non-operating Spiritwood coal-fired power plant.

Dakota Spirit AgEnergy has achieved its renewable fuels certification (RFS2) through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed 65 million gallon per year biorefinery. That facility will produce ethanol, distillers grains and fuel-grade corn oil at the Spiritwood Energy Park near Jamestown, N.D.

“We are pleased we could bring the EPA regulatory review of our unique RFS2 pathway to a successful and collaborative conclusion,” said Greg Ridderbusch, president of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy, and vice president of business development and strategy at Great River Energy.

Under the EPA’s revised Renewable Fuel Standard, cornstarch-based ethanol production facilities built after 2007 are required to have lifecycle carbon intensities 20% lower than conventional motor fuels. EPA’s RFS2 approval affirms that Dakota Spirit AgEnergy meets the 20% threshold. The lower intensity is primarily due to the use of steam from Spiritwood Station to power the biorefinery.

Dakota Spirit AgEnergy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Great River Energy, will be located adjacent to Great River Energy’s Spiritwood Station. As a combined heat and power plant, and when fully utilized, Spiritwood will be about 66% energy efficient. Most conventional coal-based power plants are 30% to 35% efficient, Great River Energy noted.

To date, Dakota Spirit AgEnergy has completed business planning, engineering and now, RFS2 certification. Ongoing financing work is left to complete before planned groundbreaking in the summer of 2013. When operational, the biorefinery will utilize 23 million bushels of number 2 yellow corn to produce 65 million gallons of ethanol per year, as well as corn oil and distiller’s grains. Future growth opportunities for the biorefinery are also being explored with emerging technologies such as cellulosic, isobutanol and other biofuel technologies.

Great River Energy is a not-for-profit electric cooperative providing wholesale power to 28 distribution cooperatives in Minnesota and into Wisconsin. It is the second largest electric utility in Minnesota. It owns and operates 12 power plants and more than 4,500 miles of transmission line in North Dakota and Minnesota. Power plants in North Dakota include Coal Creek, Stanton and Spiritwood.

Great River Energy also owns Blue Flint Ethanol, a 65 million gallon per year ethanol biorefinery that has been producing ethanol near Underwood, N.D., since 2007. Blue Flint Ethanol was the first co-located directly integrated biorefinery in the nation. Blue Flint is a combined heat and power design, purchasing steam from the Coal Creek Station. Since it began producing ethanol, the plant evolved into a biorefinery with its production of corn oil and an E85 blending station. Blue Flint also serves premium markets by achieving low carbon designation for its ethanol. Blue Flint’s proven successful operating approaches will be replicated at the new Dakota Spirit AgEnergy biorefinery, Great River Energy said.

Said the cooperative’s website about the 99-MW Spiritwood power plant: “The decision to build Spiritwood Station was made when Great River Energy faced a strong growth in demand for electricity by its member cooperatives in the mid 2000s. At that time, Great River Energy moved forward on plans to build a long-term asset to meet that growing demand for generation. During the construction phase, the United States was hit by the recession, and the five year growth forecast became marginal. Thus, Great River Energy delayed the in-service date of the plant to minimize the cost impact to members. Great River Energy’s members will again need more baseload electricity in the future, and that will help make Spiritwood Station a valuable long-term investment. This will occur as demand and electricity prices increase via a turnaround in the economy, and as additional markets develop for the available process steam from the plant.”

The planned fuel for Spiritwood is dried lignite diverted from the Coal Creek power plant. In a resource plan filed last November with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Great River Energy said it expected Spiritwood to begin fully operating in January 2015.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.