BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Westmoreland Power Co. and Montana-Dakota Utilities have agreed to join forces in developing a new coal-fired electric power plant in North Dakota.
Richard Stone, president of Westmoreland Power, on Wednesday withdrew the company's request for state money to pursue a plant on its own.
The state Industrial Commission in May approved $10 million for MDU to pursue a new power plant near the defunct Gascoyne coal mine in southwestern North Dakota.
A month earlier, the commission awarded a separate $10 million grant to Great River Energy, a power cooperative based in Elk River, Minn., to explore construction of an electric generating plant in North Dakota.
The money comes from a state coal research fund financed by coal production taxes. The Industrial Commission oversees the fund.
Much of the grant money would go toward planning and construction, should the utilities decide a new power plant is feasible. The utilities will have to match the two grants with their own money.
Gordon Westerlind, Great River Energy's vice president for power generation, told the Lignite Research Council on Wednesday that the co-op is considering half a dozen sites in western and central North Dakota.
"We hope to have it ... narrowed down to two or three by the end of August," he said.
The Lignite Research Council is composed of coal industry representatives, state and federal regulators and lawmakers.
Great River Energy will decide by the end of 2002 whether to build a new plant, which could cost more than $700 million and take until 2009 to build.
Westerlind and Duane Steen, project manager for MDU, said the utilities will work together on some studies as they decide whether a new power plant is feasible, to avoid duplication.
"Environmental and transmission areas are the real obstacles," Westerlind said.
The state grants carry requirements that the companies avoid duplicating research efforts where possible, according to Clifford Porter, the Industrial Commission's adviser on lignite issues.
Westmoreland Power, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., is a subsidiary of Westmoreland Coal Co. Another Westmoreland subsidiary is buying some coal mines and the rights to mine coal at the former Gascoyne site from Knife River Corp.
Knife River and MDU both are subsidiaries of Bismarck-based MDU Resources Group.
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