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In a session peppered with bad bills, there’s one that may win the prize for the worst of all.

Senate Bill 379, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, would allow NorthWestern Energy to acquire other utilities’ shares in Colstrip Power plants for whatever they can get them for, but value them at wildly inflated costs and pass those costs — estimated to be as much as $1.9 billion by Public Service Commission staff — to customers. That could saddle homeowners with hundreds of dollars in increased power bills every year for decades.

And, what’s more, SB 379, would prohibit the state’s Public Service Commission from stepping in to prohibit the ill-advised acquisitions or the inflated valuation. And the all-Republican, five-member PSC — hardly a bastion of liberal consumer advocacy — has unanimously opposed SB 379.

The hypothetical acquisition of more shares in Colstrip dirt cheap isn’t really all that hypothetical. The five other utilities that own shares in Colstrip operate in Washington and Oregon, states that are phasing out fossil fueled electricity by law. So those utilities are highly motivated sellers. They can see the global market for fossil-fuel power evaporating. And they don’t want to own any of Colstrip when its aging plants are closed down and must be cleaned up at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

One utility, Puget Sound Energy, tried to sell its share in the power plants to NorthWestern for $1 last year. That deal was shot down by Washington state regulators amid objections from the other out-of-state utilities.

Don’t forget, the more NorthWestern owns of the aging plants, when they are forced to shut them down in a few years, the costs of mothballing them and cleaning up the site will be correspondingly enormous — more costs consumers could get stuck with.

Let’s get real: The global trend away from coal-fired electricity is obvious. But NorthWestern is stubbornly clinging to the past with its insistence on buying more shares in Colstrip. SB 379 would enable the utility in its imprudent plans by hogtying the PSC’s authority to intervene and taking all the risks away from the utility and its shareholders and passing them on to homeowners and other customers.

Even the PSC, which has historically favored NorthWestern’s addiction to fossil fuel, has seen how bad this bill is.

Call and leave a message for your senator and representative at (406) 444-4800 and tell them to vote an emphatic no of SB 379.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.