Will Coal Bill Burn Holes In Pockets of Montanans?

Mar 21, 2017

The out-of-state owners of the aging plants have an agreement with environmental groups to shutter Units 1 & 2 by July 2022 -- and it's going to cost a pretty penny.
Credit (Flickr Photo) (https://flic.kr/p/aJaQVF)

Today lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill that would give the Montana Attorney General’s office $80,000 to intervene in a Washington state rate case that involves coal-fired power plants in Colstrip.

Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, sponsored House Bill 22 to ensure the attorney general’s office has enough money to represent the state’s interest in the pending closure of Units 1 and 2.

The electricity generated from these two units largely goes to customers in the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this year, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox filed for intervention on behalf of the state of Montana in the electricity rate proceeding of Washington utility Puget Sound Energy before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

According to Fox, this is significant to Montana residents because “PSE is a part-owner of the Colstrip generating facility, and entered into a legal settlement last year establishing a shut-down date of July 2022 for Colstrip Units 1 and 2.”

The petition states that Montana has a direct and significant interest in the economic issues that will be discussed, and that, “many thousands of Montana residents will be economically impacted, directly or indirectly, by the closure of the Colstrip Units. In addition to anticipated job losses, the revenue generated by the Colstrip Units, which is taxed by Montana, funds public schools, libraries, parks and regional water systems.”

The bill received overwhelming support from both the house and senate, passing each checkpoint with near-unanimous bipartisan support.

“The state of Montana wants to make sure that the company makes good on its legal obligations to Montana’s communities, workers and environment affected by the operation and potential retirement of coal-fired generating units in our state,” said Fox. “It’s important that the state of Montana has a seat at the table throughout this rate proceeding so our interests can be adequately represented.”

Keane acknowledged that they do have some finances, but said that, “We’re trying to make sure they have a robust case to protect the workers, the citizens of Montana and the environment.”

An amendment was offered after the hearing to use money from the Coal Board to intervene in the rate case. The Senate Finance and Claims Committee approved the amendment and the bill.  House Bill 22 now goes to the Senate floor for debate.