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Conservationists, residents push back on planned 175-megawatt natural gas plant in Laurel

Laurel residents protest planned natural gas plant. Holding a sign thar says, "We deserve better! Stop Northwestern's methane plant."
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Laurel and Billings residents protest a planned natural gas plant at a rally Tuesday organized by one of the conservation groups suing over the project.

Conservationists and residents this week protested a planned 175-megawatt natural gas plant in Laurel, just southwest of Billings.

Residents and advocacy groups Northern Plains and the Montana Environmental Information Center filed a complaint in Yellowstone County District Court in October claiming NorthWestern Energy is building on incorrectly zoned city land.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to determine whether the county or city has jurisdiction. In their responses, the city of Laurel says Yellowstone County has planning and zoning authority over the property and the county maintains no entity has zoning authority in the area, but says it’s in the process of obtaining jurisdiction.

A few dozen members and staff of the advocacy group Northern Plains Resource Council met at Town Square park in downtown Laurel for a rally late Tuesday morning. Opponents of the plant say they worry about its effect on noise, air quality, community health and their homes.

82-year-old retired commercial airline pilot Greg Childs lives near the plant, which is under construction next to the Yellowstone River south of Laurel.

“I think my primary concern is what it’s going to do to property values,” he said.

Top of the list of concerns for conservationists have been emissions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, burning natural gas creates fewer emissions than coal or oil, but U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas combustion last year made up about 34% of total U.S. carbon dioxide output connected to energy.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality department regulates gases like nitrogen oxides or ozone, but not greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or methane.

NorthWestern has said the utility needs to build more energy sources that produce electricity on demand in order to meet customer needs. A representative with NorthWestern Energy declined to comment for this story because of ongoing litigation, but highlighted emissions reduction systems the utility will install.

The city also declined to comment for legal reasons, and the county did not respond to a comment request by deadline.

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