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NorthWestern Energy Files To Buy Added Share In Colstrip Unit 4

John Hines stands in front of a podium and microphone against a blue screen that reads "Finding Good Workers"
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
NorthWestern Energy Vice President of Energy Supply John Hines speaks about the intended purchase of an added share in Colstrip Unit 4 at an economic outlook seminar in Billings Feb. 4, 2020.


The state’s largest utility filed its intent to purchase an added share of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant in eastern Montana on Wednesday.

NorthWestern Energy filed paperwork with the Montana Public Service Commission Feb. 6 asking for approval to buy an added 25 percent share of Colstrip Unit 4 from Puget Sound energy for $1. 

The purchase would add about 185 megawatts to the utility’s portfolio. According to the filing, NorthWestern has the intention of selling about 90 MW of that back to Puget Sound for around five years.

NorthWestern Energy first announced its intentions in December and has since been publicly advocating for the purchase.

NorthWestern Energy Vice President of Energy Supply John Hines spoke about the intended purchase at an economic outlook seminar in Billings Tuesday.

He said the power market is no longer as robust as it once was.

“There’s a shrinking amount of power that we can actually go out and buy, especially the unique type of power that Colstrip provides, and that’s the type that you can count on when it’s really cold out, when it’s dark out,” said Hines.

Earlier this year, Colstrip Units 1 and 2 went off-line and as Washington-based utilities pull out of the power plant financially NorthWestern is looking to increase its investment.

The utility has said it relies too much on purchasing energy from the open market and needs to add about 200 megawatts of capacity annually with a goal of 725 extra megawatts by 2025.

Meanwhile, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center are already pushing back against the purchase.

Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center says NorthWestern is hiding the true costs that come with the purchase.

“NorthWestern keeps talking about it’s only gonna be a dollar, but that’s not what it costs to operate the plant day in and day out. Those costs will have to be borne by those customers and those are the costs that we want to know about,” says Hedges.

The PSC has seven to nine months from the date of filing to make a decision. The commission will conduct public comment through that process.

The proposed purchase is part of a larger business deal that would include NorthWestern buying a share of Puget Sound’s transmission system.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.