More power to the people of Montana or Selling a pig in a poke

Tom Woods
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
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Tom Woods

In 2008, NorthWestern Energy purchased 30% of the Colstrip coal-fired power plants and terribly over-charged Montana ratepayers as part of the deal, all with the blessing of the Montana Public Service Commissioners at that time.

Now, in 2020, the leadership of North-Western energy is back at the ratepayer trough, asking the Montana PSC to approve the Company’s purchase of the last two coalfired power plants left in Colstrip for $1. To help make their argument, NorthWestern Energy is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a manipulative propaganda campaign to trick Montana ratepayers and voters into doubling down on that terrible investment made in 2008.

My inbox and social media feed have been filled with ads from a group called “More Power To You.” Fully funded by and foisted upon us by NorthWestern Energy, this company is using the money we pay to them as ratepayers to convince us to allow them to take more of our money. Don’t fall for it.

There are a lot of inconvenient truths about Colstrip that NorthWestern Energy fails to acknowledge. The fact is, the electrical generation facility in Colstrip is near the end of its lifespan. It is very expensive to operate and that situation is getting worse. For example, the price for coal the plant burns was just renegotiated and yet NorthWestern has filed a request with the Montana PSC to keep the new coal prices a secret from anyone who isn’t an “intervener.”

Stop trying to sell Montana ratepayers a pig in a poke.

There are more hidden costs in the proposed $1 Colstrip deal. One of the units is in dire need of an expensive multi-million dollar overhaul. The ash ponds created over the decades are leaking. Will the current corporate owners pay the hundreds of millions of dollars for these after they have cut and run from Montana? Probably not. Too many companies take the profits out of our state and leave their mess for us to deal with. We need to be on the right side of history this time.

The states that buy power from Montana have made it clear that after 2025 they will only purchase energy from renewable sources, not coal-generated power. Since you cannot separate coal power from clean power on the electrical grid, owning Colstrip jeopardizes our states’ ability to be an energy exporter in the future.

This is why all Colstrip owners except for Northwestern Energy are ready to shut Colstrip down. Since North-Western Energy gets an inflated subsidy to keep Colstrip open, the company is spending millions of ratepayer dollars for advertising that attempts to convince us to support their $1 scheme to buy the leftovers at Colstrip. They make it sound like it’s too good of a deal to pass up. Fact is, it’s only good for them.

That price raises an important question. How is it NorthWestern Energy can now purchase a 25% share of Colstrip for $1, while it continues to charge us $407 million for a 30% share it purchased 12 years ago?

NorthWestern Energy owes ratepayers an apology and a refund for what it has done to us in the past. Going forward, the company must change its ways. First, NorthWestern Energy must immediately stop spending Montana ratepayer money on this propaganda campaign, selling us what it knows is a terrible investment. The members of the Montana PSC must also wake up and exert the power to the people of Montana to resist another boondoggle. It’s their job to balance the interests of Montana ratepayers and citizens with those of Northwestern Energy. Commissioners, do your duty, not NWE’s bidding.

Tom Woods is a four-term legislator from Bozeman. He is currently a candidate for the Public Service Commission, District 3.

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