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Half-dozen Colstrip, energy bills alive at 2021 Legislature

Colstrip w sign.jpg
Posted at 1:29 PM, Mar 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 11:31:17-04

HELENA — More than a half-dozen GOP-sponsored bills to bolster the Colstrip power plants and undercut renewable power are advancing at the 2021 Legislature. Here’s a list of some of these bills, and their status:

· Senate Bill 379, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick. It guarantees, and defines, how NorthWestern Energy can recover costs from its Montana electric customers if it buys additional shares of the Colstrip coal-fired power plants. Its first hearing is Tuesday before the Senate Energy Committee.

· SB266, sponsored by Fitzpatrick. Aimed at the out-of-state utility owners of Colstrip, the bill says any actions by a Colstrip power-plant partner that would lead to closure of the plants, without the consent of all owners, is a “unfair or deceptive act.”

It enables the Montana attorney general to take civil actions against any these of acts, with fines up to $100,000 a day. The bill has passed the Senate and is in the House Energy Committee.

· SB265, sponsored by Fitzpatrick. This bill requires any arbitration over disputes among the Colstrip plant owners to occur in Montana. Current contracts say it would occur in Washington. It has passed the Senate and is in House Energy Committee.

· SB201, sponsored by Fitzpatrick. It prohibits any “adders” or “bonuses” for contracts between NorthWestern and renewable-power producers. Project developers say the bill is an attempt by NorthWestern to deny legitimate costs that have been ordered by a court, and still allow NorthWestern to benefit from the “green” value of the power they’d buy from the projects. It has passed the Senate and is before House Energy Committee.

· House Bill 576, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Schillinger, R-Circle. Eliminates the renewable-energy portfolio standard, which requires utilities to buy or develop a minimum amount of green power.

Utilities in Montana have met the standard and are supporting the repeal, saying the standard is no longer needed. Opponents have said the minimum should be increased. Passed the House and has a hearing scheduled this week in the Senate.

· HB475, sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. Rewrites the renewable-energy portfolio standard to include existing hydropower projects. This change essentially means no additional clean-power projects would be required to meet the standard. Passed the House and has a hearing in the Senate this week.

· SB237, sponsored by Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings. Eliminates a requirement in the renewable portfolio standard that says some power projects must have community-based owners.

NorthWestern has not met this requirement and supports repealing it. Opponents say its repeal lets NorthWestern off the hook for as much as $2 million in penalties. The bill has passed the Senate and is before the House Energy Committee.

These latter two bills would become irrelevant if HB576 passed.