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Greens Ask State Regulators For Colstrip Rate Relief

NorthWestern Energy building in Butte, Montana.
Nora Saks
NorthWestern Energy building in Butte, Montana.

Environmental advocacy groups and the state’s largest utility company are arguing over how much customers should pay for power coming from the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip.

For the first time in 10 years Montana regulators are revisiting NorthWestern Energy’s ownership at Colstrip in a big picture look at how much the company earns and charges its customers.

NorthWestern wants the Montana Public Service Commission to continue allowing the company to recover costs approved by the regulatory group in 2008. That allowed to the company to charge bill payers $407 million over 35 years.

But the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) say the company’s assets at Colstrip aren’t worth that much and that customers are overpaying.

Ronald Binz, a former chairman of Colorado Public Utilities Commission, was called on by environmental groups Thursday to speak against the utility company’s proposal.

"If I were NorthWestern and able to maintain the inflated valuation of that plant, I would never close it. It’s just pumping out the cash."

NorthWestern Energy disagrees. Company Vice President John Hines said regulators should be concerned about Colstrip’s future given political attacks on coal-fired generation. The memo from the PSC recording of his testimony reads that, "MEIC and Sierra Club are unequivocal in their desire to close Colstrip."

The Montana PSC will consider those arguments as part of NorthWestern’s ongoing rate case. Regulators are expected to reach a decision in late summer or early fall.

The PSC will continue to take public comment on NorthWestern’s rate case until they reach their decision.

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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