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Montana Energy Regulators Will Consider Colstrip Purchase Proposal Despite Missing Information

Coal stacks at Colstrip Power plant
Kayla Deroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
The Montana Public Service Commission in March sent back NorthWestern Energy’s request for pre approval to buy an added 25 percent share in Colstrip’s Unit 4.";s:

The body that regulates electric utilities in Montana on Apr. 21 decided it does not need more information to consider a proposal from the state’s largest utility to buy more into the Colstrip coal fired power plant.

The PSC has said the application lacked information about resource alternatives like clean energy, the potential retirement of unit 4 and how the acquisition would affect customer rates, among other things.

On Tuesday, the PSC voted four to one, against staff recommendations, to reconsider the application without the missing information.

Commissioner Bob Lake of Hamilton voted in favor of reconsideration.

“The process of discovery and the hearing with all parties, the intervenors and anyone who wants to comment on it is a very long and very thorough and very robust process that I believe will give us the information that we’re looking for,” Lake says.

Tuesday’s vote means that pre-approval can continue without NorthWestern providing added information up front. The PSC will instead tackle issues as it moves ahead with the pre approval process. The commission said it aims to decide on NorthWestern’s request this year.

In its request for reconsideration, NorthWestern said the PSC overstepped its bounds as a regulatory authority, was too strict in its standards and pre-judged the application based on comments from the environmental advocacy group Montana Environmental Information Center and consumer advocate agency Montana Consumer Counsel.

Commissioner Roger Koopman of Bozeman was the sole nay vote. Koopman said it’s NorthWestern’s responsibility to come forward with the information the PSC originally requested back in March.

“But if we at this point essentially retreat from our earlier position in saying these are deficiencies, then it’s more on us, then in a sense we’re giving them a pass,” Koopman says.

The commission did not directly address a recent decision from Colstrip power plant operator Talen Energy to claim part of NorthWestern’s proposed acquisition.

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