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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

WA Utility Denies It's Seeking Fast Track Closure Of Colstrip Units 1 & 2

Coal with the town of Colstrip in the background
Amy Martin

One of the owners of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 denies his company is angling for a fast-track closure of the coal-fired power plants. Steve Secrist, general council for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) told attendees at the Montana Energy Conference the utility is looking to the long-term.

A bill passed earlier this year by the Washington State Legislature sets up a mechanism to fund a decommissioning and clean-up of the two oldest units at the Colstrip power plant.

“Let’s at least prepare now for a mechanism that’s going to provide a funding for whatever happens with Units 1 & 2,” Secrist says.

He says the utility based in Bellevue, Washington is planning for the long-term.

“So this isn’t intended as any kind of acceleration,” he says. “It is rather preparing for the eventuality.” But he stopped short of naming that eventuality.

Secrist was on a panel at the Montana Energy Conference discussing wholesale electricity markets and transmission. The moderator was Travis Kavulla, the vice-chair of the Montana Public Service Commission. He asked Secrist about whether Montana would have a role in discussions about the future of Colstrip Units 1 and 2.

"Emphatically yes," says Secrist.

He says PSE, an investor-owned utility, welcomes the discussion and recognizes there are different perspectives and strong positions.

"That was part of our motivation quite honestly in looking at the legislation," he says.

"I don’t think it’s any secret we have a trial scheduled for May 31 with the Sierra Club concerning Colstrip. And wanting to put out there for discussion what is the right thing to do. Let’s keep managing this forward and ultimately do something that is going to be in the best interest of our customers and minimize costs wherever we can."

Avista Corporation is a co-owner in Colstrip Units 3 & 4.

Dennis Vermillion, senior vice president of Avista Corp. and president of Avista Utilities, says those coal-fired plants are low cost and reliable. He says Units 3 & 4 remain a best resource for its customers going forward.

Correction: Dennis Vermillion is Avista's senior vice president. He is identified incorrectly in the audio version of this story. We regret the error.

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