Coal Creek Station

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Coal Creek Station is an operating power station of at least 1210-megawatts (MW) in Underwood, McLean, North Dakota, United States.


Table 1: Project-level location details

Plant name Location Coordinates (WGS 84)
Coal Creek Station Underwood, McLean, North Dakota, United States 47.3785, -101.1570 (exact)

The map below shows the exact location of the power station.

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Unit-level coordinates (WGS 84):

  • Unit 1: 47.3785111, -101.1570333
  • Unit 2: 47.3785111, -101.1570333

Project Details

Table 2: Unit-level details

Unit name Status Fuel(s) Capacity (MW) Technology Start year Retired year
Unit 1 operating coal - lignite 605 MW subcritical - -
Unit 2 operating coal - lignite 605 MW subcritical - -

Table 3: Unit-level ownership and operator details

Unit name Owner Parent
Unit 1 Rainbow Energy Center Great River Energy
Unit 2 Rainbow Energy Center Great River Energy

Project-level coal details

  • Coal source: Falkirk mine

Retirement discussions

In April 2020 it was reported that Great River Energy is considering closing down Coal Creek Station because it faces serious financial problems. Closure would impact hundreds of jobs in the area, at the plant and also at the nearby Falkirk Mine. According to the EIA 923 (2019), the mine supplied 7.5 million tons of lignite to only 2 power stations, 7.3 million to Coal Creek Station and 0.2 million tons to Spiritwood Industrial Park, which is also owned by Great River Energy. Great River Energy is looking into wind power as a replacement for the loss in production capacity using the free capacity on the plant power transmission lines to supply the wind power to the Minnesota markets.[1]

In May 2020, Great River Energy said it was planning to shutter the plant in 2022. When the transformation would be complete, Great River expected that two-thirds of its electricity would come from wind turbines.[2]

Carbon capture proposed

After Great River Energy said it was going to close the plant in 2022 following years of financial losses, local and state leaders vowed to find a way to keep it open. Then, in June 2021, Rainbow Energy Marketing revealed that it had agreed to buy the plant, with plans to retrofit it using carbon capture systems and also help to develop a wind farm. What felt like a godsend to people in Underwood looked like a financial and environmental fiasco to energy analysts and clean energy advocates, who viewed the plan to use carbon capture technology to keep the plant running as an expensive distraction from the urgent need to embrace cleaner options to help address climate change.[3][4]

Unlined coal ash dam

In January 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the refusal of applications from six coal-fired power stations to dispose of coal ash in unlined dams. The EPA stated that the utilities operating the power stations failed to demonstrate how they would meet groundwater protection regulations. The impacted power stations were Belle River Power Plant, Coal Creek Station, Conemaugh Generating Station, Coronado Generating Station, Martin Lake Steam Station and Monroe Power Plant.[5]

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 11,094,477 tons [6]
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 32,084 tons [7]
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 24,428 tons [8]
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 12,489 tons[9]
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 859 pounds [10]

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[11] The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma-related episodes and asthma-related emergency room visits, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, peneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants. Fine particle pollution is formed from a combination of soot, acid droplets, and metals formed from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and soot. Among those particles, the most dangerous are the smallest (smaller than 2.5 microns), which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. The table below estimates the death and illness attributable to Coal Creek Station. Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[12]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from the Coal Creek Station Plant

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 51 $370,000,000
Heart attacks 79 $8,600,000
Asthma attacks 860 $45,000
Hospital admissions 37 $860,000
Chronic bronchitis 31 $14,000,000
Asthma ER visits 52 $19,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Toxic Waste Data [13]

  • 2006 Arsenic Waste: 46,300 pounds
    • Air Release: 875 pounds
    • Land Release (Landfill/Sludge/Reuse): 45,425 pounds
  • 2006 Chromium Waste: 48,117 pounds
    • Air Release: 491 pounds
    • Land Release (Landfill/Sludge/Reuse): 47,626 pounds
  • Lead Waste: 33,709 pounds
    • Air Release: 490.6 pounds
    • Land Release (Landfill/Sludge/Reuse): 33,218.4
  • Nickel Waste: 42,744 pounds
    • Air Release: 403 pounds
    • Land Release (Landfill/Sludge/Reuse): 42,301

Coal Creek ranked 3rd on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[14] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[15]

Coal Creek Station ranked number 3 on the list, with 4,372,709 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[14]

Coal Creek eighth in 2009 mercury emissions

The 2011 Environmental Defense Fund report, "Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives" found that 25 plants alone are responsible for nearly a third of all mercury emissions in the power sector, while providing only eight percent of U.S. electricity. The findings are based on 2009 U.S. Department of Energy data. The plant with the eighth highest mercury emissions was Coal Creek Station, releasing 862 lbs in 2009.[16]

Litigation and Controversy

  • September 12, 2005 Data [17]
    • Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station sold over 69,000 tons of fly ash in the month of August alone, a record for fly ash recycling.
    • Coal Creek Station is recognized for reusing a good portion of their fly ash. They produced 440,000 tons in 2004 and sold 400,000.
    • The EPA awarded Great River Energy with a first-place environmental achievement award.

Articles and Resources


  1. "As co-op considers closing Coal Creek, concerns play out in zoning spat" Bismarck Tribune, April 19, 2020.
  2. Hughlett, Mike (May 7, 2020). "Minnesota's Great River Energy closing coal plant, switching to two-thirds wind power". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  3. "A Lifeline for a Coal Plant Gives Hope to a North Dakota Town. Others See It as a Boondoggle," Inside Climate, July 17, 2021
  4. "Rainbow Energy Center to purchase Coal Creek Station," Great River Energy, June 30, 2021
  5. "EPA Announces Latest Actions to Protect Groundwater and Communities from Coal Ash Contamination," United States Environmental Protection Agency, January 25, 2023
  6. "Carbon Monitoring For Action: Coal Creek Station Data". The Center for Global Development.
  7. "Criteria Air Pollutants: Coal Creek Station Data". Environmental Protection Agency.
  8. "Criteria Air Pollutants: Coal Creek Station Data". Environmental Protection Agency.
  9. "Criteria Air Pollutants: Coal Creek Station Data". Environmental Protection Agency.
  10. "Toxic Release Inventory: Coal Creek Station Data". Environmental Protection Agency.
  11. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  12. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  13. "Toxic Release Inventory: Coal Creek Station Data". Environmental Protection Agency.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sue Sturgis, "Coal's ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?," Institute for Southern Studies, January 4, 2009.
  15. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  16. "Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives" Environmental Defense Fund report, March 2011.
  17. "Fly Ash Sales Shatter Record". Business Wire. September 12, 2005.

Additional data

To access additional data, including an interactive map of coal-fired power stations, a downloadable dataset, and summary data, please visit the Global Coal Plant Tracker on the Global Energy Monitor website.