The latest roadmap for the region’s energy future is big on renewables and confident that coal-fired power plant retirements won’t lead to blackouts. Both assumptions had Montana utilities concerned this week.
The Northwest Power Plan is probably most often cited in Montana for its blackout forecasts, which in the past had suggested that coal-fired power plant retirements increased the probability that Montana and northwestern states could be short on power during times of peak demand.
But a draft of the latest plan makes a sharp pivot toward renewables, suggesting that in the next six years at least 3,500 megawatts of renewable resources should be built. That’s the equivalent of roughly two-and-a-half Colstrips. The southeast Montana power plant, once one of the West’s largest, helped electrify Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington for 40 years, but now faces retirement as early as 2025 and isn’t the only plant in the region winding down. Five coal-fired units totaling 2,324 megawatts have retired in the last three years. Eight regional coal-fired units could retire by the end of 2026.