North Dakota lignite council outlines production, consumption in 2015

The Lignite Energy Council on Jan. 13 reported that North Dakota’s four lignite coal mines sold 28.7 million tons in 2015, the same production level as 2014.

The 2015 and 2014 totals are a million tons more than in 2013. 

“Lignite-based electricity remains one of the lowest-cost source sources of power in the United States and the volume of sales reflects the value of domestically produced energy that is both dependable and affordable,” said Jason Bohrer, president and chief executive officer of the council.

The state’s four large lignite mines, seven lignite-based power plants and the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, which gasifies lignite, represent North Dakota’s fifth largest industry, providing good-paying jobs and substantial tax revenue to the state. Direct and indirect employment connected to the lignite industry remained relatively steady at 15,500, according to an economic study conducted by North Dakota State University economics professors Randal Coon, Dean Bangsund and Nancy Hodur.

“The 28.7 million tons of lignite contains the energy equivalent of 63 million barrels of oil and is enough energy to heat every home in Bismarck for the next 100 years,” Bohrer said. “The vast reserves of lignite in North Dakota have yielded approximately 30 million tons of coal every year since 1988 – which is still a drop in the bucket compared to the 800-plus years of recoverable reserves.” 

A vast majority of lignite produced in North Dakota is used to generate electricity with a smaller portion being used to create synthetic natural gas and produce fertilizer products. The use of lignite to generate electricity results in lower electricity costs for consumers, farms and businesses in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, the council said.

  • The Freedom Mine, the nation’s largest lignite producer, sold 14.3 million tons in 2015, which was used by three customers – Dakota Gasification Co.’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant, and Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Antelope Valley and Leland Olds stations.
  • The Falkirk Mine sold 8 million tons last year. Its major customer is Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station, the largest of the state’s eight power plants. The Falkirk Mine also provides fuel to the Spiritwood Station. North American Coal Corp. operates both the Freedom Mine and the Falkirk Mine.
  • The Center Mine, owned by BNI Coal Ltd., a subsidiary of ALLETE, sold 4.2 million tons, which were primarily sold to the Milton R. Young Station, operated by Minnkota Power Cooperative.
  • The Beulah Mine, owned and operated by Dakota Westmoreland Corp., sold 2.1 million tons. Otter Tail Power’s Coyote Station and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co.’s Heskett Station purchase coal from the Beulah Mine.

More than 2 million consumers and businesses in the Upper Midwest use the electricity generated from lignite, while the Great Plains Synfuels Plant supplies synthetic natural gas made from lignite to 400,000 homes and businesses in the eastern United States.

Lignite-based power plants have invested $2 billion in technology to control emissions, and utilities with plants in North Dakota are continuing to invest millions of dollars in improved emissions control technologies, the council said. North Dakota is one of only seven states to meet all federal ambient air quality standards, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Lignite Energy Council is a regional trade association representing North Dakota lignite producers, electric utilities and 340 businesses providing goods and services to the mines and plants.

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.