Despite repeated efforts to save the Sidney Montana-Dakota Utilities location, the Lewis and Clark Station will shutter the doors at the end of March. According to the parent company, the closure is a necessary cost-saving measure.
An announcement about the closure was originally made in February 2019 and at that time the station was scheduled to close by the end of 2020. Lewis & Clark went online in 1958 and provides 50 MW of power to the area, including Westmoreland Savage Mining LLC, which in turn helps operate Sidney Sugars. The lignite coal-fired power station employs about 30 workers.
A number of meetings were held in an effort to find a way to save the facility but those efforts were not successful.
The closure of the Lewis and Clark is expected to have a significant impact on the community of Sidney and surrounding areas.
State Representative Brandon Ler (R-Savage) spoke about the closure. “It will have a trickle-down effect when the Lewis and Clark Station closes down. The coal mine in Savage might have to close down, which will affect the Savage school and our sugar beet factory,” said Ler. “We have tried several different avenues to stop the closure of the station but we have not been able to make a deal. I am worried about the future effects this will have locally.”
The Westmoreland coal mine produces 350,000 tons of coal annually and employs 10 full-time employees and the coal that is mined out of the mine is all delivered by Norby Trucking.
Richland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Leslie Messer also said every effort was made to save the station. ”There have been several attempts to try and keep the station from closing. Many people and companies have tried to do what they can to stop this chain of domino effects from happening and as you can see nothing is slowing this momentum. It’s not from a lack of trying,” said Messer.
The decision by MDU to retire the station is due to the high costs associated with the operation of the plant and the negative effects it has on the environment. According to http://www.montana-dakota.com, the company will be utilizing other low-cost power available on the market, due to low-cost natural gas and increasing wind resources.
Messer said that it is “heart wrenching” to see the closure of the station. “The obvious devastating effects are the jobs that will be lost, the school district, the libraries, the roads, as well as the parks, but more than that it’s the way of life and the sustainability that’s lost forever by these families. In essence, all of that makes that plant completely priceless to us, so it’s just been so beyond devastating to watch this happen and still make all these efforts to change it.”
The two schools in Savage will also be impacted. Each of Savage’s two school districts receive about $50,000 annually in coal gross proceeds. Savage is the only Richland County school district that receives such funds. Without the coal mine, Savage’s school may be forced to cut staff and increase mill levies.
MDU also plans to close the coal-fired portion of the Heskett Station in Mandan, N.D., around the end of 2021. The analysis done while preparing the integrated resource plan (IRP), which MDU puts together every two years and files with regulatory commissions, points to the retirement of two aging coal-fired plants and the construction of the natural gas combustion turbine. Low-cost power available on the market, due to low-cost natural gas and increasing wind resources, as well as rising costs to operate these facilities, led to the decision to retire the coal plants.
In the initial announcement, Mark Hanson, senior public relations representative for MDU, said the company has begun the development process to construct an 88-megawatt simple-cycle peaking unit at the Heskett Station site, and anticipates submitting an advance determination of prudence request with the North Dakota Public Service Commission this fall.
The new generation resource was selected as part of Montana-Dakota’s IRP. The company believes a second combustion turbine at Heskett will be cost-effective because the site has existing infrastructure and natural gas supply that serves an existing combustion unit that went online in 2014.
“The plants have served our customers well, providing low-cost energy for many years, operating roughly twice as long as expected when they were constructed in the mid-1950s and early 1960s,” Kivisto said. “The age of the plants, low-cost competition on the market and the ongoing cost to operate the plants all have contributed to the plants being too expensive to operate much longer,” said Heskett.