Great River Energy's plans to replace coal with wind power means changes for many rural Minnesota power cooperatives

Great River Energy announced Thursday it is closing its coal-based power plant in North Dakota and will be switching to wind energy based in Minnesota. The change affects many local power cooperatives, including Kandiyohi Power Co-op.

PHOTO_ Coal Creek Station 1.png
Great River Energy will close its Coal Creek Station in western North Dakota by the end of 2022. The coal-power generated there will be replaced with wind energy, including new projects in Minnesota. Great River Energy sells electricity to many power cooperatives in Minnesota, including Kandiyohi Power Cooperative. Photo courtesy of Great River Energy

WILLMAR — A major supplier of electricity to Minnesota power cooperatives is ending its use of coal and will instead increase its use of renewable energy.

In an announcement Thursday, Great River Energy said its will phase out the use of coal as an energy source and close the 1,151-megawatt Coal Creek Station in western North Dakota by the second half of 2022.

The loss of this coal-based energy will be offset by the purchase of 1,100 megawatts of new wind power projects, with much of that $1.2 billion investment happening in Minnesota over the next few years, according to Great River Energy executives who spoke during a telephone news conference Thursday afternoon.

Great River Energy is an electricity distribution cooperative based in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

The change announced Thursday will affect about 1.7 million people, including many rural residents in west central Minnesota.


The announcement is “good news” for local members of the Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, said Sonja Bogart, who was recently named CEO of the local cooperative headquartered in Spicer.

Bogart said the changes being made by Great River Energy will have economic and environmental benefits for power co-op members.

“This is a big day for the energy industry in the upper Midwest,” she said.

Great River Energy President and CEO David Saggau said the decision to switch from coal to wind power was based on economics.

He said the North Dakota coal plant was “losing value” in the market compared to other sources and that their offer to sell — or even give the North Dakota plant away — has not generated any takers.

Saggau said switching to renewable energy will “significantly” reduce the wholesale cost of power that Great River Energy sells to its 28 electric distribution cooperative members, including Kandiyohi Power Cooperative.

The change will also have an environmental impact, with GRE’s power supply resources becoming more than 95% carbon dioxide-free by 2023, he said.

Kandiyohi Power Cooperative gets about 80% of its electricity from Great River Energy.


“This change moves GRE’s power supply portfolio from approximately 30% to more than 95% carbon-free,” Bogart said. “Besides the considerable reduction in carbon emissions, the resulting cost reduction also provides a significant economic advantage.”

Willmar Municipal Utilities currently gets about 20 percent of its power from GRE in a contract that will sunset in 2026, said John Harren, general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities.

Harren said increasing the use of renewable energy is a “trend the energy world is moving towards.” In terms of reducing carbon from the environment, he said it’s the “right approach.”

Along with converting from coal to renewable energy, Great River Energy is also working with an East Coast company called Form Energy to install a 1-megawatt battery system at the Great River Energy facility in Cambridge sometime in 2023.

The grid-connected battery storage system is projected to deliver power for 150 hours, which could hold up to electrical demands during a Minnesota polar vortex or heatwave, according to Saggau.

Reactions to Great River Energy’s announcement have varied.

Duane Ninneman, executive director of the Montevideo-based organization called Clean Up the River Environment, said Great River Energy has “given up its historic ranking as one of America’s dirtiest electricity generators and is setting a new standard as perhaps America’s cleanest.”

Ninneman praised GRE for “leading the way to the next generation of electric cooperatives in providing energy that is clean, affordable and reliable” and said the shift to wind energy will benefit economies in rural Minnesota.


Isaac Orr, from the Minnesota-based think tank called Center of the American Experiment, said closure of the Coal Creek power plant will have “devastating consequences” to customers.

Orr said the plant is one of the most efficient plants in the nation and said taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy are to blame for pushing coal plants off the grid.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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