Op-Ed: Project Tundra Hopes to Take Next Step with Carbon Capture Technology

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Mac McLennan — CEO, Minnkota Electric Cooperative

Energy Fairness is pleased to present the following op-ed from Mac McLennan, — CEO, Minnkota Electric Cooperative — regarding the promise of the coop’s Project Tundra Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage initiative.

Many of the mission statements across the electric utility industry look fairly similar. Delivering safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally-responsible energy is a consistent message delivered from coast to coast. However, each utility takes a different approach to meet those targets. The differences are becoming more pronounced as rapid change continues to transform the industry.

At Minnkota Power Cooperative, we believe the best path forward is through innovation. Without question, the most ambitious initiative being pursued is Project Tundra – a bold effort to build the world’s largest carbon capture and storage facility in North Dakota. State-of-the-art technologies are currently being explored to produce zero-carbon energy at any time from our largest coal power plant, the equivalent of permanently taking 600,000 gasoline-fueled vehicles off the road. The CO2 would then be safely and permanently stored more than a mile underground in deep, geologic formations.

Coal is a critical resource in helping Minnkota maintain a reliable electric grid. Harsh winters in the Upper Midwest can significantly limit the ability of wind and solar farms to operate for extended periods of time. Minnkota and many of its neighboring utilities depend on baseload resources, like coal, to provide the energy people need during these extreme weather events. With Project Tundra, Minnkota would be able to produce this energy with very low carbon emissions.

Historically, the hurdle for carbon capture has been economics. Now, however, Congress has opened the door with 45Q tax credits, which work similarly to the tax credits that have been enjoyed by wind and solar projects for many years. In 2020, Minnkota will complete the advanced engineering design and thorough research into the proposed carbon storage facility. A decision will likely be made in early 2021 as to whether or not we will move forward with construction.

From a global perspective, Minnkota firmly believes leadership must come from the United States to build, demonstrate, and ultimately drive down the costs of commercial carbon capture projects. Developing these first-of-a-kind projects in the U.S. will de-risk the technology for developing countries while ensuring they have the ability to continue using low-cost and reliable coal to grow their economies and improve the quality of life for their citizens. We believe Project Tundra can serve as a blueprint for the rest of the world and show that we can tackle both CO2 emissions and grid reliability with the added bonus of addressing energy poverty.

Electricity is essential to our everyday life. We all want to push for it to be a better product – safer, more reliable, affordable for every household, and as clean as possible. To reach these goals, it remains our belief at Minnkota that carbon capture technology must be implemented regionally, nationally, and across the world. Our hope is that Project Tundra can help bring this breakthrough technology another step toward widespread adoption.