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The large reserves of lignite coal, natural gas, and oil in the Bismarck-Mandan area make North Dakota a net exporter of natural gas and electricity. Our energy is competitively priced, often with reduced industrial rates for large energy users.

Bismarck-Mandan also has an abundant supply of water — the Missouri River flows between the two cities, and there’s even more water in an immense, nearly untapped aquifer. In addition, Lake Sakakawea (the third largest man-made reservoir in the U.S. in terms of storage volume) and the Garrison Dam (with a storage capacity of 23.8 million acre-feet and five turbines) are within an hour’s drive of Bismarck-Mandan.


Lignite Coal, Power Plants, and Electricity


Lignite Energy Council

Western North Dakota is part of a region that contains over a 1,000-year supply of lignite that is economically feasible to recover. This figure is based on a supply of 35 billion tons and a current production rate of 30 million tons annually. In 2000, lignite production was 30.9 million tons, with an average production of 30 million tons over the past ten years. About 79% of the lignite coal is used to generate electricity, 13.5% is used to generate synthetic natural gas, and 7.5% is used to produce fertilizer products and as home heating fuel. Over 2 million consumers and businesses in the Upper Midwest use the electricity generated from lignite.

The region northwest of Bismarck-Mandan is home to four lignite coalmines that produce over 30 million tons annually. Twelve power plants use that lignite coal to generate 4,000 megawatts of low-cost, abundant, and reliable electricity used by over 2 million homes, farms, and businesses. Power plants using lignite coal generate electricity 24 hours a day.

Power plants in this region fueled by lignite generate electricity at a cost notably below that of all coal, nuclear and natural gas plants throughout the United States. According to the Utility Data Institute, average dollar per megawatt hour electricity cost for MAPP region power plants is $12.95, all nuclear plants is $16.93, all coal plants is $17.67, and all gas plants is $32.22. Five of the top 60 low-cost power plants in the United States are fueled by lignite in North Dakota as noted in 1999 cost rankings of over 650 power plants nationwide by the Utility Data Institute.

Lignite-fired power plants in this region use the resource in an environmentally responsible way. North Dakota is one of 13 states that meets all of EPA’s federal ambient air quality standards (EPA Green Book, January 29, 2001). Lignite-fired power plants have invested over $650 million in state-of-the art technology to keep our air clean. More than 70 percent of lignite generated electricity is scrubbed to remove sulfur dioxide. This compares to just over 10 percent for states east of the Mississippi River.

Local providers of electric power are Capital Electric Cooperative, Montana-Dakota Utilities, and Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative. The overall average industrial cost of power is estimated at 4.5 cents per kWh.

Natural Gas


(MDU Resources Group, Inc., Lignite Energy Council)

About 13.5 percent of the lignite coal produced is used to generate synthetic natural gas. The only commercial-size coal gasification plant in the United States is the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, North Dakota (80 miles northwest of Bismarck). The Great Plains Synfuels Plant supplies synthetic natural gas made from lignite to 225,000 homes and businesses in the East.

Fidelity Exploration and Production Company, a subsidiary of the MDU Resources Group, produces natural gas from over 500 wells located in Montana and North Dakota and approximately 130 wells in eastern Colorado. Natural gas and oil production reached 41 Bcfe (billion cubic feet equivalent *) in 2000, up from 35 Bcfe in 1999. The company’s reserve base also increased, from 357 Bcfe in 1999 to 400 Bcfe in 2000, 77 percent of the reserve being natural gas. WBI Holdings, Inc., another MDU Resources Group subsidiary, provides natural gas transportation, underground storage, and gathering systems. Over 3,600 miles of underground natural gas pipeline span major portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Storage working gas capacity of approximately 200 billion cubic feet provides customers with enhanced daily and seasonal deliverability and greater ability to access best-cost natural gas supplies throughout the year.

Montana-Dakota Utilities Company is also the supplier of natural gas.  The average cost for industrial users is $.719/kd, plus the cost of gas.  The average cost of firm contract rates is $.473/dk, plus the cost of gas, and for interruptible services rates $.719/dk, plus the cost of gas.  The 2003 average cost of gas was $4.29/dk.

(* “Bcfe” is defined as ‘billion cubic feet equivalent, determined using the ratio of six million cubic feet of natural gas to one barrel of US 42 gallons of crude oil, condensate or natural gas liquids.’)


Hydro-electric Power


(US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District) North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea is the 3rd-largest man-made reservoir in the United States in terms of storage volume. The lake is 178 miles long, has 1340 miles of shoreline, and has a maximum depth of 180 feet. Water released from Lake Sakakawea is used for the production of hydroelectric power. The total storage capacity of the reservoir is 23.8 million acre-feet. The drainage area for Lake Sakakawea is 123,900 square miles; the drainage area for the entire Missouri River main stem dams is 279,480 square miles.

Garrison Dam is located 75 miles northwest of Bismarck-Mandan on Lake Sakakawea. Garrison Dam is one of six main stem projects in the upper Missouri River Basin. The dam measures 11,300 feet in length with a maximum height of 210 feet and a storage capacity of 23.8 million acre-feet. Three of five turbines each generate 109,250 kilowatts of power; the remaining two each generate 95,000 kilowatts of power. Industrial growth in Bismarck-Mandan, as well as statewide, has been spurred by the availability of electric power from lignite-fueled steam plants and from hydroelectric facilities such as those at the huge Garrison Dam.