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ND's largest power plant to fluctuate output

UNDERWOOD, N.D. ---To remain competitive in a changing power market, the state's largest power plant is making operational changes to more quickly ramp production up and down.

UNDERWOOD, N.D. ---To remain competitive in a changing power market, the state's largest power plant is making operational changes to more quickly ramp production up and down.

"In the past, we wanted to park our power plants at the top (capacity)," GRE Vice President and Chief Generation Officer Rick Lancaster said in a statement. "In today's energy market, there is added value for plants that can reduce output - flexibility is an enviable trait."

All generation resources now need to be supplemental to wind.

More natural gas power peaking plants, capable of being fired up quickly to meet demand when needed, have been constructed in the state in order to accommodate fluctuations in supply. Most of North Dakota's coal plants aren't designed that way.

GRE is adapting operations at Coal Creek Station about 50 miles north of Bismarck in a process called "cycling," said GRE spokesman Lyndon Anderson. This allows it to fluctuate between its full 1,146 megawatts down below 300 megawatts when the wind is blowing.

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The plant has typically been online 95 percent of time. While the plant will never completely cease operations, output will change to "match up with market realities," Anderson said.

The key is to be responsive but also efficient.

"By reducing production at the right times, we not only reduce costs, we also reduce our carbon dioxide emissions," GRE Vice President and Chief Market Officer Jon Brekke said in a statement. "There is significant - and growing - value in flexibility."

Anderson said the changes aren't major. There's no new equipment or investment required, just some finetuning to processes. The plant has found its most efficient ramp down rate to be 3 megawatts per minute.

"We're preparing the plant for this because the market has changed in our part of the state, and we just have to do that because of the increased amount of electricity on the market," Anderson said. "It's a new market reality."

Because there is more energy available with increased renewables, market prices have fallen. GRE is shutting down one of its other power plants in the state, Stanton Station, because, with the decrease in demand, it was running infrequently and not cost effective to fire up and shut down.

And GRE expects to see a lot more "cycling" of power plants since the output of renewable resources swings up and down. The plant gets the signal to ramp up or down from MISO, the market where it buys and sells its power.

Anderson said operations at GRE's new Spiritwood Station near Jamestown isn't seeing the same market changes because it's mainly a steam plant, with the bulk of its revenue coming from the steam it sells to neighboring users.

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"We do have some electricity on the market, but that's pretty minimal amount," he said.

The change in operations at Coal Creek could also result in less need for coal from the nearby Falkirk Mine, though Anderson said they would have to wait to see the full impact on North American Coal's operation.

"We're not making any changes in terms of how we do business," said North American spokesman David Straley, adding that the goal remains to make sure the mine provides the plant with the fuel source it needs.

And Straley said fluctuating to meet demand is nothing new at Falkirk.

"When we build our annual and shorter-term plans, it's still up and down," he said. "It always has been. It always will be."

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