KTVQ: Colstrip a big topic as energy summit comes to Billings

BILLINGS – Energy is the name of the game this week as Billings hosts the Montana Energy Summit 2018.

From discussing the future of Colstrip to an update on the Keystone Pipeline to the latest on a proposed coal port in Washington State, this week’s Montana Energy Summit offers a snapshot of the various moving parts on the U.S. Energy scene. 

Wednesday morning, Montana Sen. Steve Daines got a jump start as host, leading a tour of top U.S. energy officials to Colstrip and a round-table discussion.

With Colstrip units 1 & 2 slated for shutdown in 2022, most people are focusing now on Colstrip’s transition away from coal.

But Wednesday’s discussion zeroed in on the role that the plant’s two newer unit, 3 and 4, will play in the new U.S. energy scene moving forward.

Neil Chatterjee is one of 5 members on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  He’s the first FERC Commissioner to set foot in Colstrip…

Chatterjee believes Colstrip – like other aging coal fired power plants in the country – may be the key to adding reliability to the world of renewables…

“If this plant shuts down because it can’t compete in today’s marketplace, and we find out down the road that we did need this plant for reliability, for resilience, that could be a real problem,” Chatterjee said. “The folks in this community make a compelling case about the threat to reliability in this region, if this plant were to shut down. We’ll have to very carefully examine that.”

Ralph Alexander, CEO of Colstrip operator Talen Energy, said the issues at play in Colstrip, represent a microcosm of the entire U.S.energy picture…

“To me, Colstrip is the poster child for what the nation needs to deal with, a country that has so much power supply. Now with renewable energy being mandated, natural gas, and not enough demand. So you have an imbalance…what do you do?” Alexander said.

Just two years ago, Talen announced it would relinquish its role as operator of the Colstrip Generating Complex. But Alexander has a different plan and convinced the company to take a renewed look, and he says they’re in it for the long haul.

Exactly how Colstrip and Montana coal fits into America’s energy puzzle remains a work in progress, but Daines remains convinced its a bright one. Opportunities include providing coal to growing markets in Japan, Korea and China, or helping move America’s energy grid into its next generation.

Daines will offer his opening remarks at the Montana Energy Summit 2018 at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

The opening panel discussion is titled Trains, Trucks, Ports and Pipelines and features the chairman of the BNSF Railway and the president of Lighthouse Resources, the company proposing a new west coast coal port in Longview.

Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources, is among those offering keynote talks later in the morning, along with Russ Girling, President of TransCanada, the firm behind the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The panel discussion on the future of Colstrip kicks off the afternoon sessions at 1:05 p.m.