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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Senator Ankney Pushes Plan To Subsidize Coal-Fired Power Plants

Montana Republican Senator Duane Ankney.
Nick Mott
Montana Republican Senator Duane Ankney.

Following a trip to Washington, D.C. arranged by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana lawmaker said he’s 65-percent confident a White House plan to subsidize coal-fired power plants will succeed. Colstrip Sen. Duane Ankney says he discussed the idea of helping coal compete with renewables and natural gas with the U.S. Department of Energy.

As coal feels market pressures from cheaper natural gas, and consumers demand less carbon-emitting energy, Republican Sen. Ankney says coal-fired power plants should receive government dollars to help keep them running and economically viable.

Ankney says the recent cold-snap in Montana is an example for why coal should remain a stable part of the energy supply. He says, unlike other energy sources, coal power can be turned on and off when it’s needed most.

“As soon as the wind quits blowing and you lose your hydro, then you want that baseload coal-fired generation to come online.”

Ankney says his conversations with U.S. Department of Energy officials earlier this week did not include hard-set numbers on potential subsidies for coal-fired power. A timeline for policy is also unclear.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a Trump administration proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power.

However, Ankney says such subsidies are needed to put coal at a level playing field with renewables, like wind.

“That’s what it’s all about, is the consumer making sure that they have reliable, low-cost electricity. ”

The Department of Energy did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s request for details about potential subsidies for coal before this story aired.

The Montana Environmental Information Center’s Deputy Director Anne Hedges says the public shouldn’t be on the financial hook for energy sources, like coal, that can’t compete in a changing energy market.

“The shift is permanent. And it’s time to have a plan to move forward and not keep looking back at the last century of electricity production.”

Hedges says electricity generation can eventually move beyond coal and the baseload of coal can be replaced by other sources, like gas, wind and solar.

Montana Lawmakers are expected to continue debating state policy that could shape the future of coal-fired power use and Colstrip when they reconvene later this week.

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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