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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PUC Approves Combined-Cycle Natural Gas Power Plant near Brookings

Bob Mercer hints that he's got issues with us greenies for hooting and hollering about Big Stone II, Keystone XL, and Hyperion while "sitting on our hands" while the Public Utilities Commission the 300-megawatt natural-gas-fired Deer Creek Station in Brookings County. Come on, Bob, cut us some slack: we can only fight so many battles!

I do find it interesting that Deer Creek planner Basin Electric doesn't sound concerned with transmission issues. People tell me we can't really attract any big wind farms until we build big expensive transmission lines to export our power to Minneapolis, Chicago, and other points more populous. But Basin Electric apparently apparently doesn't need big interstate transmission lines to justify their $400-million investment; Mercer says Basin Electric anticipates they'll need up to 1400 megawatts more over the next decade just to meet their own power needs.

The plant also appears to fit with nearby wind power: project manager Gavin McCollam tells our PUC that the Deer Creek Station can be fired up or throttled back in coordination with fluctuating wind power availability.

On the green side, natural gas is still unsustainable fossil fuel, jut like coal and oil. But the Union of Concerned Scientists admits natural gas is an improvement over other dinosaur power:

Although natural gas is a fossil fuel and so is made up mostly of carbon, global warming emissions from gas are much less than coal or oil. Compared to coal, gas produces 43 percent fewer carbon emissions for each unit of energy produced, and 30 percent less than oil. Gas also produces no solid waste, unlike the massive amounts of ash from a coal plant, and very little sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions.

On the other hand, the combustion of gas still produces nitrogen oxides, a cause of smog and acid rain. And while carbon emissions are lower, natural gas itself is a powerful greenhouse gas. Natural gas (methane) is much more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, 58 times more effective on a pound-for-pound basis. Methane concentrations have increased eight times faster than carbon dioxide, doubling since the beginning of the industrial age. Natural gas use has accounted for about 10 percent of all global warming emissions ["How Natural Gas Works," Union of Concerned Scientists, ©2010].

The "Social and Economic Impact Study" prepared by the First District Association of Local Governments for the PUC notes that natural gas power plants produce no substantial solid waste (unlike coal, oil, nuclear, and municipal solid waste burners).

But what say you, green readers? Should we be raising a stink over the Deer Creek Station? Or do we do better to save our fire for the big polluters and land-grabbers at TransCanada and Hyperion?


  1. In my opinion, natural gas and nuclear power can serve as "stepping stones" on the way to the ultimate goal of wind and solar dominance.

    Even "clean coal" and coal gasification might have legitimate roles in the short-to-medium term.

    Let's allow ourselves to lose a few battles in order to win the war.

    Another good word verification display here: dreptudi (plural of dreptudus, emphasis on second syllable, meaning the sort of person who thinks that old-fashioned methods can constitute viable short-term progressive options).

  2. Stan, you're so practical.

    I'll admit, the idea that the combined-cycle plant can be adjusted to balance shifting wind power supply really strikes a positive chord with me. We need energy capacity like that to keep the power supply stable (at least until we get Shipstones!).


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