A representative of Northern Plains Nitrogen says he believes construction on a proposed plant in Grand Forks could begin as early as this year, provided the necessary financing is secured first.

Larry Mackie, NPN's chief operating officer, told the Grand Forks Herald on Monday evening, Jan. 11, that as fundraising continues, the company has stayed on top of other planning and organizational aspects — including engineering — in the interim.

Asked if he could give a ballpark estimate on when the first work might begin on the proposed Grand Forks fertilizer plant, Mackie answered “this year.”

“We’re shovel-ready right now. If we had the financing, we’d be moving dirt tomorrow,” he said. “We have done a tremendous amount of engineering and other permitting work on this project. We’re ready to go. We just need the money.”

He said NPN is “absolutely” coming to Grand Forks and “this project will get funded.”

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“I have no doubt in my mind,” Mackie said.

More than $2 billion in investment first will be required, he said.

The NPN proposal to build a large-scale plant in Grand Forks was a talkabout project in the years immediately following 2013, when the idea first became public. Mackie said as many as 3,000 construction workers would be needed during construction phases over three years, with about 200 full-time employees to operate and maintain the plant after that. The focus of the plant is to produce and sell nitrogen-based fertilizer products, including ammonia, urea and UAN — urea ammonium nitrate — for industrial markets.

But after a flurry of discussions in 2013 and 2014, the Herald reported in 2018 that “the project site northwest of Grand Forks has stayed quiet” as the search for investors continued.

Aside from some permit extension updates, little has been reported in the years since — that is, until a press release was sent Monday by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, which announced a “new partnership with Northern Plains Nitrogen in its carbon capture and storage project, which is focused on decarbonizing the agriculture and biofuels industries.”

According to the release, NPN plans to annually capture 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which Summit would transport and store in central North Dakota.

NPN owns land just northwest of Grand Forks and, according to the Monday press release sent by Summit Carbon Solutions, “necessary permits have been received to begin site work.”

The press release — and its positive-sounding wording about the plant’s future in Grand Forks — came as a bit of a surprise Monday, as local government and business leaders hadn’t heard much lately from NPN.

“We haven’t heard any updates, at least in the last six months,” Mayor Brandon Bochenski said. “We think there is positive momentum with the natural gas pipeline coming. But beyond that, we have had no communication (with NPN).”

Keith Lund, CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., also received the Monday press release and told the Herald later that it “indicates to me that they have made progress and are developing additional elements that would add value and make it more attractive to an investor base.”

Mackie said there has been a quiet period due to a nondisclosure agreement NPN signed with Summit. He said “the probability of a secret getting out is directly proportional to the square number of people that know, so we kept it quiet.”

The market is growing, Mackie said, since more nitrogen-based fertilizer is needed to grow crops for an increasing world population, and ammonia is increasingly being used as a fuel source.

“The ammonia market is going to grow phenomenally,” he said, adding that Grand Forks is an ideal location for a plant because of its proximity to a prime market area in the U.S. and Canada.

In its press release sent Monday, Summit Carbon Solutions noted that the company recently announced “significant milestones in development of its carbon storage facilities in North Dakota, having received state and local permits to collect 3D seismic data and begin drilling stratigraphic test wells, activities which are now underway.”