March 14, 2019 Read More →

Montana Republicans introduce revised bill to save Colstrip coal plant

Billings Gazette:

Republican legislators are taking another run at bailing out Colstrip Power Plant, capping some costs, but still obligating NorthWestern Energy customers to a 30-year repayment plan of the utility’s $407 million Colstrip investment.

The new legislation, SB 331, which was introduced Wednesday, comes after Billings Sen. Tom Richmond announced that he’ll abandon his previous attempt to save at least a portion of the four-unit coal-fired power plant. The earlier proposal allowed NorthWestern Energy to buy a larger share of the troubled Colstrip Power Plant and then pass all future costs onto its customers.

The power plant is owned by Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy, South Dakota-headquartered NorthWestern and four regulated utilities based in either Oregon or Washington. Concerned about climate change, both states are pressing their utilities to pull the plug on coal power. NorthWestern indicates it has a chance pick up a bigger Colstrip share for the token price of $1.

The new bill, sponsored by Richmond, would prevent NorthWestern from billing its customers for more than $40 million in operating costs accumulated over five consecutive years. Richmond’s plan still binds customers to a 30-year Colstrip payment plan, in order to guarantee NorthWestern a full return on the $407 million it has already paid for 30 percent ownership of Colstrip Unit 4. Those payments would continue even after Colstrip shut down, which is unusual. Typically, customers cannot be charged for a power plant that doesn’t supply them energy. Richmond’s bill would change that.

The Montana Consumer Counsel, the office created by the state constitution to defend the interests of the customers of monopoly utilities, has been outspoken about the potential customer harm NorthWestern’s $1 deal might do. The counsel typically advocates for the lowest cost power available, discouraging utilities like NorthWestern from making business decisions that drive up customer bills.

More: Montana GOP again tries to save Colstrip with revised bill


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