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MT Ratepayers Rebel Against Utility Fossil Fuel Investments

Most of the utilities that co-own the Colstrip, Mont., power plant say they will pull out of the facility within the next eight years. (Rachel Cernansky/Flickr)
Most of the utilities that co-own the Colstrip, Mont., power plant say they will pull out of the facility within the next eight years. (Rachel Cernansky/Flickr)
December 9, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – Montanans plan to rally in Helena against Northwestern Energy's 20-year plan to invest heavily in fossil fuels.

The Public Service Commission holds two public hearings Monday on Northwestern Energy's resource procurement plan, which includes its intention to run the Colstrip coal plant through 2042 and build four natural gas plants.

It doesn't include any investments in renewable energy sources.

Jeff Smith co-chairs the climate action group 350 Montana, which is organizing the Ratepayers Rebellion Rally. He notes the utility company's vice president recently said all of Colstrip's units would be retired "within a decade."

"So, which is it?” he questions. “Is the Colstrip plant going to be open until 2042, or is the vice president correct in saying that Colstrip is going to close down within the decade? That's a big issue."

Most of Colstrip's owners – utilities in Idaho, Oregon and Washington – are pulling out or predict they'll stop relying on the plant within the next eight years.

Smith says more than 100 people are expected at the Helena rally, with some arriving on buses from Bozeman, Billings and Missoula, beginning at noon. The first PSC public hearing begins at 1:30 p.m.

Northwestern Energy says investment in Colstrip and natural gas is cheaper than in renewables.

Mike Scott, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Montana, says relying on fossil fuels is a dangerous gamble for the planet.

"The reality is, we are facing a climate crisis right now, and throwing new fossil fuels into the mix that we could get attached to as rate-paying customers for 20 or 30 years is really going backwards in terms of trying to address the crisis we're facing," he states.

Smith adds Northwestern Energy hasn't done a comprehensive study of the cost of renewables. He maintains the economics of solar and wind look more favorable than either coal or natural gas.

"We're a climate action group, and we think that they should give wind and solar in Montana – given the resources, the natural resources that we have – a fair shake," he stresses.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Montana contributes to our fund for reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT