February 2, 2018 Read More →

In Colstrip, Montana, a Sense of the Inevitable

KTVH (Helena):

The future of the nation’s coal industry was in the spotlight this week during the State of the Union speech, but here in Montana, things seemed much more dim.

President Trump declared the war on energy and the war on clean coal over in his speech, but a new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Analysis showed that the U.S. coal industry continued to shrink last year, trending toward a long-term decline.

In Colstrip, home of the second-largest coal-fired plant in the West, residents find themselves at a crossroads between the town’s past and its future.

“We’re not the first community in the U.S. to go through this,” said Jim Atchison, executive director of the SouthEastern Montana Development Corporation.

“We’re looking at other communities around the country. Things that they have done positively, and what impacts they’ve had and how they’ve addressed those with government and the private sector and how it’s worked out, pro or con,” Atchison said.

Pat Campbell, labor relations specialist at Western Energy’s Rosebud Mine, has lived and worked in Colstrip for nearly 30 years. He’s worried about property values and jobs.

“My personal opinion is we’re going to see some layoffs in the community,” said Campbell.

“We have hundreds of vendors that come here from Billings, Miles City. It’s going to affect those people too. I think we’re going to feel a pretty good pinch,” Campbell said.

So when will Colstrip Units 1 & 2 actually close?

Co-owners Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy have agreed to a shutdown date of June 2022, but the word on the street in Colstrip is the shutdown could occur a full year earlier – in June of 2021.

As for Units 3 & 4, their future is not as clear, as six companies share ownership in the plants.

Any decision to shut down requires unanimous consent from all six.

In its latest rate case in Washington state, Puget Sound identified 2027 as its exit date from Colstrip.

Talen Energy foresees Units 3 & 4 operating well beyond that, as long as they remain economically viable. That will be the deciding factor.


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