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Public Service Commission Halts NorthWestern's Purchase of Colstrip Plant

The power plant in the distance.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
The Montana Public Service Commission voted to pause Northwestern's process until further details are provided.

 Edit 3/18: The article has been corrected to reflect the full name of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

Montana utility regulators say they need more information from NorthWestern Energy before considering the company’s request to buy an additional share in the Colstrip coal-fired power plant.

The Public Service Commission voted on Mar. 17 to pause the process until NorthWestern provides further details.

PSC staff says there are a number of issues with NorthWestern Energy’s February application to buy an extra 25 percent share in Colstrip unit 4, primarily lack of information.

Commissioner Roger Koopman agreed with the staff's assessment.

“I guess one of the things that really jumps out is the potential risks to the ratepayers in this case and so many unanswered questions,” Koopman says. 

Staff said the application failed to delve into unit 4’s possible closure in coming years, the effect of energy policies in other states, and risks to plant owners and ratepayers. Staff also said NorthWestern neglected to evaluate a full range of resource alternatives like wind and solar.

NorthWestern said late last week its application to buy more of Colstrip met state regulation requirements.

PSC Commissioners agreed with their staff’s recommendation to put the process on hold until NorthWestern could provide more information.

The decision comes after comments from the Montana Consumer Counsel, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Colstrip Energy Limited Partnership pushing for disclosure on NorthWestern’s plans and potential impacts. NorthWestern has 30 days to respond.

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