Montana House Rejects Colstrip
Montana’s House of Representatives on Tuesday rejected a bill that would allow NorthWestern Energy to purchase another share of a coal-fired power plant in southeastern Montana and additional capacity on a key high-voltage power line. Supporters said elements of the proposal could be amended into another bill in the Legislature’s final days.
Republican Sen. Tom Richmond, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bill had been “thoroughly remodeled” in the House and he wasn’t sure if he would have voted for it.
A House committee removed requirements that the Public Service Commission allow $75 million in spending on updates to the power plant in Colstrip be included in customer rates without regulatory oversight.
Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas said the House could reconsider the bill and the Senate could agree to accept it late with a two-thirds majority vote, or lawmakers could find another way to move the issue forward.
“The subject is so important to the state of Montana that there could be pieces of it that survive,” Thomas said, adding that the power line holds the promise of developing green and renewable energy that could be sold on the West Coast while keeping the tax base and jobs in Montana.
Republican Sen. Duane Ankney said the bill hasn’t been rejected on its merits, but for political reasons.
“It provides transmission; provides low-cost, reliable electricity; within the first three years the rates go down,” Ankney said. “Now tell me how that hurts Montana.”
NorthWestern spokesman David Hoffman has said buying a share of the Colstrip plant is the lowest-cost way for the utility to provide more base power to supplement solar and wind energy when they are not available.
Opponents were concerned about cleanup costs and efforts to avoid oversight.