North Dakota Democratic Party: “Coal Is No Longer a Viable Source of Energy.”


The Great River Energy Coal Creek Station coal plant near the Falkirk mine outside of Underwood, N.D., is the largest power plant in North Dakota Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

In the Minot Daily News over the weekend was a remarkable letter from a leader in the North Dakota Democratic-NPL which derided our state’s coal industry.

Brad Magnuson, chairman of his party’s Renewable Energy Caucus, says “Long term, coal is not a viable source of energy.”

“Short term, until renewables become exclusive in North Dakota, coal is merely a backup source of energy, and not a primary source,” he continues.

That’s a shocking statement, as obtuse as it is ill-informed.

Coal is not “merely a backup source of energy.”

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

We all remember the harsh winter our region just came through. During the depths of the “polar vortex” in January of this year it wasn’t renewables like wind or solar keeping the lights on and the heaters running. It was coal, mostly, as well as natural gas and nuclear power as you can see from the pie chart on the left.

That chart is based on MISO data.

Not only is coal still our region’s primary source of energy – hardly the “backup source” Magnuson ignorantly describes – it’s also our most resilient.

The output of wind and solar farms is very much affected by the weather. Gas plants, meanwhile, while far more reliable than renewables still have some challenges. You readers will remember that Minnesotans suffered from a natural gas shortage during the aforementioned polar vortex, one which had public officials asking them to turn down their thermostats.

Factories dependent on natural gas had to shut down operations.

This is the problem with the energy debate in America today. So often the loudest voices engaged in it are motivated more by ideology, and partisan considerations, than a pragmatic grasp of reality.

Politically fossil fuels like coal and oil and even natural gas are out of favor. Renewables, meanwhile, are favored. Which leads ideologues like Magnuson and his political party to speak as though coal were a “backup” source of energy even when the facts show it is not.

Coal is what works right now. Future inventions and innovations may change that. If we find a better way to keep the lights on, and the factories running, even when the weather is at its worst I’m all for it.

We just haven’t yet.

Wind and solar as even natural gas, as they are presently comprised, certainly aren’t the answer.