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Montana PSC Finds Deficiencies In NorthWestern Energy's 20 Year Plan

The outside of the NorthWestern Energy building in Butte, Montana.
Nora Saks
Montana Public Radio
The outside of the NorthWestern Energy building in Butte, Montana.

The commission that regulates electric utilities in Montana is calling into question the accuracy and adequacy of NorthWestern Energy’s 20-year energy plan.

The Montana Public Service Commission said in their comments that there are a number deficiencies in NorthWestern Energy’s 2019 Electricity Supply Resource Procurement Plan.

The five-person regulatory commission suggested NorthWestern failed to fully explore the value of renewable energy resources like wind and solar through its modelling system and that the plan included both input and modelling errors.

They also said NorthWestern neglected to explore if building extra energy transmission lines could give the utility a stronger ability to import energy into the state affordably.

At a PSC work session June 30, commissioners mostly signed off on the comments their staff had drafted, except for one language change Commissioner Tony O’Donnell suggested. He said the drafted comments implied that NorthWestern Energy lied in its plan.

He said the comments should stick to asking for corrections to inaccuracies and deficiencies.

"And I think that’s entirely appropriate without calling into question the veracity, the truthfulness, of the intent of NorthWestern Energy," O'Donnell said.

Commissioners passed the comments as amended four to one with Commissioner Roger Koopman against.

The 2019 Electricity Supply Resource Procurement Plan outlines coal and natural gas as the most reliable sources to fill NorthWestern’s energy-generation demand gap.

Members of the public, including environmental groups like the Montana Environmental Information Center and Northern Plains Resource Council, say they’re concerned with how much the utility relies on oil and gas.

NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Jo Dee Black sent a statement saying that the utility is reviewing the commission’s comments and will take them into consideration.

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