- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A delegation of Montana lawmakers made their pitch to their counterparts in Washington state to save the coal-fired Colstrip power plant - or at least give them time to plan for a partial shutdown.

A bill before the Washington Legislature would authorize Colstrip’s largest owner, Puget Sound Energy, to file a plan to decommission Colstrip’s two oldest units, and to allow the utility to buy additional ownership in one of the two newer units.

The timing of the shutdown would be included in the plan to be filed with the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission in 2017. The newer Colstrip Units 3 and 4 would continue to operate if the other two are shut down, Puget Sound Energy officials said.

Four Montana lawmakers told a Washington state Senate committee even a partial shutdown would have dire economic consequences on the southeastern Montana community of Colstrip and on industrial users across the state that depend on cheap power from Colstrip Units 1 and 2.

Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, reminded the Washington lawmakers that the power plant’s electricity in the 1970s helped build their state into what it is today. Now, Montana needs time to plan how it will deal with losing a major economic driver like Colstrip, he said.

“Now one neighbor is going to turn to another neighbor and say, ‘You’re out, goodbye, we’re going to walk away from you?’” Ankney said. “I don’t think so.

“Treat us like a neighbor, help us out here,” he added.

Sen. Rick Ripley, R- Wolf Creek, warned that if the bill passes, Montana lawmakers would likely call a special session to propose legislation to protect Montana’s economy from the effect of a partial shutdown.

“We don’t want to get into dueling legislation. We want to work together,” Ripley said.

Six companies - none of them headquartered in Montana - own Colstrip’s four coal-fired plants, giving the state little power to stop them from being shut down. Colstrip, the second-largest coal-fired plant in the West, is under pressure from a weak coal market and increasing federal regulations.

Puget Sound Energy owns half of Colstrip’s two older units, and Talen Energy owns the other half. Legislation authorizing Puget Sound Energy to buy out Talen and shut down the units failed to pass the Washington Legislature last year.

Puget Sound Energy drafted the new legislation, and officials said the increasing environmental regulations and potential legal challenges against coal plant owners make the legislation necessary.

“Eventually these plants will close, and our customers and company will face the cost of that,” PSE government relations manager Nancy Atwood told the legislative committee.

Closing the two Colstrip units would remove 614 megawatts of coal-generated electricity from the grid, equal to between 5 and 6 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions annually, she said.

“This will help to meet environmental regulations,” Atwood said.

The legislative committee did not take action on the bill on Wednesday.

In Oregon, Portland General Electric and PacificCorp. - two more Colstrip owners - helped write legislation to wean that state off coal-produced electricity by 2035.

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