The Billings Gazette: Daines Raises Issue of Colstrip Closure Next Year

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., raised the issue Friday of a secret plan to shut down Colstrip’s oldest units in 2017, much earlier than has been disclosed to the public.

In a letter to Talen Energy CEO Paul Farr, the Republican senator said he’s heard from constituents that the decision has already been made to shut down Colstrip Units 1 and 2 next year, but that the company is delaying the announcement.

Daines asked Farr to disclose whether the state of Montana is also in the loop on quiet plans to close the units.

“It’s imperative for Units 1 and 2 to stay open as long as possible,” Daines said. “It’s also important for those who will be impacted by the closure of Colstrip to have the most up-to-date information about closure plans.”

Daines’ staff confirmed that by Friday evening, Farr hadn’t replied to the senator. Talen did respond to The Gazette late Friday.

“There has been no decision on a shutdown date for Colstrip Units 1 and 2, nor have any agreements been reached with any parties,” said George Lewis, Talen spokesman. “We will respond more fully to Sen. Daines in an appropriate time frame. Until the response is prepared we will have no further comment about the letter.”

State Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said his community doesn’t want to be blindsided by an early closure. What’s publicly known is that the southeast Montana power plant’s oldest units will close “on or before 2022,” a concession made last summer in a pollution lawsuit settlement between Talen, the Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center.

If the units closed next year, more than 100 families dependent on power plant jobs would be caught flat-footed, he said.

“I definitely believe that there has been a date set and they’re going to get the election out of the way and all this and then there’s going to be a date announced,” Ankney said. “One way or another, it’s absolutely essential that they come up with a date. These people in Colstrip need to know so they can have a plan.”

Ankney said he didn’t know if state government officials were aware of an undisclosed 2017 closure date.

Daines sent a copy of his Farr letter the Montana Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator. PSC Chairman Brad Johnson called for disclosure from Talen. The PSC denied having any discussions with Colstrip owners about a 2017 closure.

“If a backroom deal has been made to shut down Colstrip units 1 & 2 sooner than the 2022 date previously agreed upon, then we must know as soon as possible,” Johnson said in a press release. An unexpected, early shuttering of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 could affect the utility lines servicing the power plant’s other two units.