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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bullock Convening 'Working Group' On Colstrip Ownership

Colstrip power plant, Montana
Courtesy Montana AFI-CIO
Colstrip power plant

Today Governor Steve Bullock said he wants to convene a "working group" to explore alternative ownership of most of the Colstrip coal-fired electricity plant.

It comes at a time when the future of Colstrip is increasingly uncertain. It is majority-owned by utility companies that serve customers on the West Coast, where there’s mounting political pressure to stop buying coal-fired power shipped in from Montana.

"Right now, we’re sort of in a place where you hear a lot of noise, but not a lot of direction," Bullock says. "To try to have a little bit more structure in a discussion, I think it’s good for our overall state."

Today Governor Bullock sent a letter to Bob Rowe, the CEO of NorthWestern Energy, inviting him to be part of the working group.

In the letter, Bullock says that in a recent conversation, Rowe had indicated that there might be, “potential long-term benefits," to Northwestern taking ownership of a greater portion of Colstrip.

Claudia Rapkoch, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern, says NorthWestern only owns about 9 percent of Colstrip, and has not yet responded to the governor’s invitation.

"We would not consider any scenario that would cause any harm either in the form of increased costs or risks to our current retail supply customers, but we also know that as citizens of Montana, and as an essential infrastructure provider, we have to work together to find suitable solutions to keep our economy thriving," Rapkoch says.

Governor Bullock says two out-of-state companies with large shares in Colstrip have agreed to join the working group, those being Washington state-based Puget Sound Energy, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania. Bullock says he plans to issue more invitations in the next week or so to talk about market, legislative and regulatory issues related to potential changes in Colstrip’s ownership structure.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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