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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

House Speaker Says Keeping Colstrip Power Plant Open Is 'Complex'

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.

After announcing a soon-to-be-released plan to help keep parts of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip open, Montana’s Speaker of the House now says that plan is still up in the air. During the GOP rebuttal to Governor Steve Bullock’s State of the State address in January, Speaker Austin Knudsen said he would be introducing legislation in the upcoming days to help keep Colstrip Units 1 and 2 open for as long as possible.After a 2016 lawsuit settlement between the power plant’s operators and environmental groups requiring  the shutdown of Colstip’s two older units by 2022, lawmakers in Helena started searching for ways to protect the energy markets and families the plant helps sustain.

But since his announcement in January, the Speaker’s plan has been delayed by what he calls the complex situation facing Colstrip.  

"I probably shouldn’t have said I was going to bring legislation in a couple days," Knudsen says. "We had had an idea that ended up not being ready for prime time yet."

Knudsen says he is still working with Colstrip stakeholders to find a way to keep the power plant open as long as possible.

"It’s an incredibly complex issue, is what we’re finding out," says Knudsen. "We’ve got together a really good task force of legislators who are looking at the Colstrip issues and trying to really drill down into what can be done."

The Speaker says he is optimistic he’ll be able to bring a legislative proposal that will allow Colstrip Units 1 and 2 to stay open until the scheduled close date, but he didn’t provide a timeline for that. Other proposals to address the upcoming closures in Colstrip from democrats and republicans are moving through legislature.

The last day for a legislator to request a bill that would impact the state budget is March 1, 2017.

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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