HELENA –Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday said he’ll form a “working group” to explore whether NorthWestern Energy or others might buy three Colstrip power plants, to ensure they keep operating.

The action comes just four days after Washington state enacted a law that enables Colstrip part-owner Puget Sound Energy to set up a fund to pay for costs of closing two of the plants – if and when that happens.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, in signing the law, said it’s a step toward halting the consumption of coal-fired power in Washington state.

Story continues below

In an interview with MTN News, Bullock said instead of relying on out-of-state owners and political 10261738_Gforces to decide the fate of the coal-fired power plants in Colstrip, he wants to see whether options exist in Montana.

“I am concerned about the community, workers and the valued electricity that is provided by those facilities both for in-state consumption by Montanans and for export to our neighbors,” he said.

Bullock broached the subject in a letter to NorthWestern Energy CEO Bob Rowe, noting that the two had discussed the issue last week.

The governor acknowledged that Rowe conveyed “very real and understandable obstacles” to local
acquisition of the Colstrip plants, but said he still wants to explore the possibility.

“I know your share my concern for a responsible made-in-Montana future,” Bullock wrote to Rowe.

Colstrip 1, 2 and 3 are currently owned by Puget Sound Energy, of Bellevue, Wash., Talen Energy and other utilities in Oregon and Washington.

Bullock said he’s contacted Puget Sound and Talen about being part of the working group.

Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, an opponent of co
al-fired power, said Tuesday it’s a bad idea for the government to be interfering in the market “in such a fundamental way.”

Consumers are turning their back on coal-fired power, for many reasons, she said.

“The market is adjusting not just in Montana, but all over the country and all over the world,” she said. “And the governor is swimming upstream.

“It would be far better to plan for a transition to clean energy at Colstrip than to try to figure o
ut how to make an uneconomic coal plant stay open.”


Reporter: Mike Dennison
More from Mike: Facebook | Twitter