Montana Public Radio

Amended 'Save Colstrip' Bill Advances To The House Floor

Apr 12, 2019

A party-line vote late in a Montana House committee Friday is advancing the controversial bill that gives NorthWestern Energy incentives to buy a larger share of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip.

But the so-called Montana Energy Security Act is moving to the House floor for debate significantly changed.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee amended the bill to restore the Montana Public Service Commission's (PSC) oversight over NorthWestern's potential purchase of a greater share of Colstrip.

Senate Bill 331 was  also changed to remove the part of the bill that would allow NorthWestern Energy pass $75 million in associated costs on to its customers without regulatory review.

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings, is the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The PSC has all oversight, so we're not removing the PSC from anything. We changed this so the PSC could do their job," Zolnikov says.

However, Rep. Denise Hayman, a Democrat from Bozeman, says it’s unclear why the bill is necessary if such major components of it were removed. Current law already allows NorthWestern Energy to buy new sources of power generation with the regulatory oversight of the PSC.

"Why are we hearing this bill? I have no idea."

Over the last several days, supporters of Senate Bill 331 have linked the policy to an another unrelated bill, one to continue Medicaid expansion in Montana. Some Republicans in favor of the Colstrip bill are trying get it passed by leveraging their support for the Medicaid bill.

The shape of both policies could continue to shift as political negotiations continue, and lawmakers have more opportunities to amend the bills.