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Shareholder Files Lawsuit Against NorthWestern Energy

A sign reading "NorthWestern Energy" in silver type against a tan woodgrain background.
Nora Saks
Montana Public Radio
A lawsuit is being filed against NorthWestern Energy by a shareholder claiming the company failed to consider his green energy proposal.

A shareholder of Montana’s largest electric utility has filed a lawsuit claiming that the company blocked his clean energy proposal from a 2020 shareholder vote.

Ovando-based Attorney Tom Tosdal is suing to include his proposal for review and vote in NorthWestern Energy’s annual shareholder meeting in April. He filed the lawsuit in Missoula district court December 23. 

Tosdal’s proposal cites concern over climate change and criticizes NorthWestern Energy for leaning on natural gas generation over renewable energy sources.

Tosdal wants a shareholder vote on his proposal, which calls for NorthWestern to replace its coal-fired generation at the Colstrip Power Plant with renewable energy by the end of 2025. His lawsuit claims that he’s held the necessary number of shares for more than a year and the company is therefore legally required to present his proposals to other shareholders for review.

NorthWestern Energy wrote to its governing entity, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, asking for approval to omit the proposal from its annual meeting.

NorthWestern spokesperson Jo Dee Black says the company believes it violates SEC regulations.

“And the SEC has some history on this and guidance. Among that is a proposal likely crosses a line of micromanagement if it involves intricate detail or seeks to impose specific time frames or methods of implementing complex policy,” Black said. 

The lawsuit comes amid ratepayer backlash against NorthWestern’s drafted energy procurement plan. The plan projects how the company will meet its customers’ electricity needs over the next 20 years and it leans heavily on oil and gas generation over renewable energy sources.

NorthWestern Energy also recently announced it intends to purchase an added 25 percent share of Colstrip Unit 4, amid news that other owners headquartered in Washington State are pulling out in light of new legislation phasing coal out by 2025. Tom Tosdal did not reply to YPR’s request for an interview by the deadline for this story. 

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