NorthWestern Energy

A sign for NorthWestern Energy is shown in this Chronicle file photo.

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No one spoke in favor of NorthWestern Energy’s long-term plan at a Bozeman listening session on Monday.

About 25 people criticized the plan, saying it irresponsibly relies on fossil fuels and fails to address climate change.

The Public Service Commission held the Bozeman meeting as part of its public comment process for NorthWestern’s Electricity Supply Resource Procurement Plan, a 300-page document outlining the company’s strategy for the next 20 years.

Those interested in speaking formed a line that wound through the library’s packed community room. A woman in the front row held a sign declaring, “No stranded assets!” Others carried yard signs that said, “Clean up NorthWestern Energy.”

Commenters pointed out areas of the plan where they believed NorthWestern had made incorrect assumptions, such as neglecting to factor in the costs of climate change or the possibility of a carbon tax. They said utilities in nearby states like Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming are investing in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, while NorthWestern continues to focus on fossil fuels.

They called on the PSC to reject NorthWestern’s plan.

The plan shows the company is facing an energy supply shortage and must add about 800 megawatts of generating capacity by 2025.

NorthWestern determined that the least expensive way to expand its capacity is to add natural gas resources. However, Northwestern intends to “solicit for a wide variety of resources” and will evaluate them based on the benefits they provide to ratepayers and on their ability to meet the company’s energy needs, said John Bushnell, with NorthWestern, who gave a brief presentation at Monday’s meeting.

The plan also says NorthWestern will likely continue to rely on coal-fired power from Colstrip.

Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, said he was disappointed in the data that NorthWestern used and the conclusions it drew.

“This report is misdirected and potentially irresponsible in its findings,” he said.

Sara Blessing, a leader of Sunrise Movement Gallatin County, said that by only considering money, NorthWestern isn’t being honest about the true cost of using fossil fuels.

“I know that NorthWestern Energy is legally obligated to take the cheapest option on the market,” she said. “I would like to see NorthWestern Energy go to Congress and ask them to reinvent how they look at cost, look at the real cost, and I would like to see the PSC pressure them to do so.”

Becky Weed, of Belgrade, said the plan shows Northwestern is prioritizing its profits over the wellbeing of ratepayers and the environment.

“I would like to frame this as positively as possible,” Weed said. “I plead the Public Service Commission to work with us to lead NorthWestern Energy to be as concerned and anxious about their legacy as they have previously been about their quarterly earnings reports.”

Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman, a Republican whose district includes Bozeman, presided over the meeting, listening and taking notes.

NorthWestern has been working on the procurement plan for months. It published a draft of the procurement plan in March and then held a 60-day public comment period. The company updated the plan based on the comments and submitted a new version to the PSC in August.

In addition to the meeting in Bozeman, the PSC held listening sessions in Helena and Missoula earlier this month and will hold one at the Billings Public Library on Thursday at 6 p.m. and the Lewistown Public Library on Friday at 5 p.m. Comments can also be submitted on the PSC website until Monday.

The PSC can’t accept or reject NorthWestern’s procurement plan but will use the comments it receives to guide its decisions on projects and contracts that NorthWestern proposes.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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