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Environment & Science

NorthWestern Warns Of Outages, Higher Bills As Colstrip Units 1, 2 Closure Approaches

Four tall stacks billow white steam into a blue sky
Jackie Yamanaka
Yellowstone Public Radio
Colstrips Power Plant

In the wake of Talen Energy’s announcement that it plans to close units 1 and 2 at the Colstrip Power Plant by the end of the year - 3 years earlier than planned - NorthWestern Energy Wednesday warned Montana legislators of the potential for power shortages and higher electric bills. Green energy advocates pushed back against the dire outlook.

NorthWestern Energy Vice President of Supply and Montana Government Affairs John Hines told the Legislative Consumer Committee Montana has been blessed with excess energy generation.

He added that’s a blessing that could disappear with the retirement of Colstrip Units 1 and 2.

"Having Montana not have enough generation available to serve its customers on a firm or reliable basis is becoming a bigger and bigger concern for NorthWestern," he says.

NorthWestern serves 369,000 electricity customers in Montana.

Hines said importing power from nearby states would require a massive and expensive overhaul of the company’s transmission lines.

He said renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, are too unreliable to make up for the loss of the coal plants and battery storage is also an issue.

But Brian Fadie, clean energy program director at Montana Environmental Information Center, told legislators cheap, renewable alternatives with storage potential are already available.

"That facility at Colstrip is a cash cow the company, so I just hope that this committee keeps in mind that when you hear discussion about that facility, there's an underlying financial motivation taking place here for why that company might want to keep that facility running," says Fadie.

Legislators this session rejected a bill that would incentivize NorthWestern to buy a larger share of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip.