Newsroom Notebook: A look at Coal Creek’s storied past as it changes hands | State & Regional

Bullinger said the power industry “was really getting going” in North Dakota when plans for Coal Creek emerged. Smokestacks from several coal-fired power plants already stood tall above the plains in the central part of the state, and several more would follow.

Until Bullinger was hired on at Coal Creek, he’d been working for what’s now known as the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks.

“I was hired on with them to test pilot scrubbers,” he said. “Acid rain was the rage.”

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A view from the top of one of the coal conveyors at the Coal Creek Station power plant during its construction 1977.

Coal plants produce a pollutant known as sulfur dioxide, which doesn’t draw as many headlines in the Tribune now as it did in the 1970s when the state sought to comply with changes to the federal Clean Air Act. Coal plants installed controls known as scrubbers to prevent the pollutant from escaping into the atmosphere.

If that concept sounds familiar, it’s probably because of the chatter today in North Dakota about carbon capture. Instead of preventing acid rain, this technology is meant to curb climate change by filtering out the carbon dioxide from a coal plant’s exhaust gas. The gas would be compressed and injected deep underground where it would stay, permanently.

Carbon capture for coal-fired power is rather new and expensive. Critics call it unproven. It makes for a lot of headlines in the Tribune these days because it’s what our state’s energy leaders have chosen to pursue. They view it as a way to keep the state’s lignite coal industry alive for many years to come. The Energy and Environmental Research Center is leading efforts to study the technology in North Dakota, including at Coal Creek where Rainbow wants to install such a system.

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