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Settlement Calls For Colstrip Units 1 & 2 To Close By 2022

Power plant at Colstrip, MT.
Beth Saboe
The Colstrip Power Plant consists of four separate coal-fired generating units, collectively owned by Puget Sound Energy, Talen Energy, Avista Corporation, PacifiCorp and NorthWestern Energy.

By July 1, 2022, Units 1 and 2 of the coal-fired plant in Colstrip will close. The plant's owners agreed to do so to settle a lawsuit with environmental groups. The settlement was announced today.

The Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center sued Colstrip’s owners under the Clean Air Act in 2013.

Anne Hedges is MEIC’s Deputy Director.

"We were really seeking for them to have to control their air pollution like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide because they’re such an enormous source of those pollutants that really do cause serious health problems for people living downwind," Hedges says.

If the settlement is approved by the U.S. District Court in Montana, two of the plant’s four units will close by 2022. The settlement also says those units must reduce emissions while a plan is made for their closure.

The settlement does not require emission adjustments to Colstrip’s larger Units 3 or 4.

Hedges says this settlement will help Montana move to produce more renewable energy.

"This is a really important step in our goal to have a cleaner energy system and to provide West Coast markets with the energy sources they are demanding, and this agreement helps move us in that direction so we can finally start to have conversations about what comes next."

Colstrip Units 1 and 2 started operating in the mid-1970s.

A spokesperson for one of the six companies sharing ownership of the Colstrip plant, Talen Energy, says about 350 people work there.

Todd Martin with the Pennsylvania-based company declined to be interview on the phone but wrote in an email “there is no firm plans or timeline currently in place to retire Units 1 and 2. As such, it would be premature to speculate on potential impacts.”

Vice presidents of Talen and Washington-based Puget Sound Energy, the other owner of Units 1 and 2, will discuss the future of Colstrip during a legislative committee hearing in Helena on Thursday.

Committee Vice-Chair Cliff Larsen, a Democrat from Missoula, says the result of the settlement is hard news for the community of Colstrip, but not surprising.

"It was clear that Units 1 and 2 were really destined to be furloughed, it was simply a matter of when. And these matters will continue until the whole question of coal as a clean or dirty energy source is resolved, but 1 and 2, I think the post mortem is not written, I think the announcement has been made."

Governor Steve Bullock says he stands with the community of Colstrip and is angry about the settlement.

"The parties of this lawsuit took care of themselves. I am going to work to take care of the employees and their families. The task before us is large but achievable: we will protect the people of Colstrip and their families, keep energy flowing out of Colstrip, and harness the energy jobs of the future, without propping up out-of-state corporations with taxpayer resources."

His Republican opponent Greg Gianforte called the settlement a failure of leadership and called on Bullock to, "clearly renounce the MEIC, the Sierra Club and others who are working to shut down Colstrip."

A separate lawsuit over leaking ash-storage ponds at Colstrip is expected to settle soon. In that case MEIC and two other environmental advocacy groups accuse the State of Montana and Talen Energy of not properly handling the cleanup.

In 2008 several owners of the Colstrip power plant paid out $25 million to settle a groundwater contamination lawsuit brought on by residents in the area.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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