Colstrip just keeps losing customers.

Oregon lawmakers have instructed that state’s largest utilities to cut the cord on coal power in the next 19 years, a move that will pull roughly 600,000 homes from Colstrip’s customer base.

The decision, made Wednesday, is expected to become law with the signature of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat. Dubbed the “Clean Electricity and Coal Transition” plan, Oregon Senate Bill 1546B doesn’t mention Colstrip specifically, but targets Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, both of which share ownership of Colstrip Units 3 and 4.

“For PGE, we can’t service our customers from coal generated energy after 2035,” said Steve Corson, PGE spokesman. “We have a minority share in the Colstrip plants. We own 20 percent of three and four.”

PGE’s share is worth about 300 megawatts, enough to electrify 300,000 homes. The company will have to decide later what to do with its Colstrip share, Corson said. The company persuaded lawmakers to give the company until 2035 to comply, specifically because its minority share in Colstrip limits its say in the power plant’s future. Initially, the plan called for PGE to end its coal power dependence by 2030.

Pacific Power’s share is of similar size, but its challenges for complying with the Oregon Legislature’s directive are much easier than PGE’s. Pacific has customers in six states and enough non-coal energy to service Oregon. The coal power Oregon lawmakers want out of its state, will simply go to Pacific customers in Idaho, California, Washington, Wyoming or Utah, the company told The Gazette.

Because of Pacific’s easier path to compliance, Oregon lawmakers gave the utility less time than PGE. Pacific has to stop sending coal to Oregon by 2030.

The Oregon plan casts a new shadow of doubt over Colstrip’s already shaky future. In Washington state, Puget Sound Energy, which has 1.1 million customers and owns half of Colstrip Units 1 and 2, is under pressure to shutter the power generation facility’s two oldest steam plants.

Washington’s Legislature is working on an Colstrip exit plan for Puget Sound Energy that would get the utility out of southeast Montana within eight years.

The state’s Utility and Transportation Commission instructed the Puget Sound Energy to come up with a price for decommissioning Units 1 and 2. And last month Puget Sound Energy set the price tag on shutting down the units and cleaning up their environmental mess at $130 million to $200 million.

Puget Sound’s scenario would involve making it worthwhile for co-owner Talen Energy to participate. Talen and the Puget Sound Energy share ownership of Units 1 and 2 equally.

Both in Washington and Oregon, the drive to get out of Colstrip comes from consumers and environmentalists who want nothing to do with coal-fired power because of worries about climate change and public health.

The Colstrip Power Plant is the nation's 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases, emitting 13.5 million metric tons annually, according to the EPA. Units 1 and 2 are its oldest and biggest polluters.

Proponents of the Oregon’s clean electricity plan say the legislation will reduce the carbon pollution in western states by 30 million metric tons, equal to taking 6.4 million cars off the road.

Montana Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said he doesn’t think the proponents of cutting coal power to Oregon and Washington are being honest with ratepayers about how much the move will cost.

“If the Washington people want to cut coal by wire, then fine. They have that right to do what they’re going to do,” Ankney said. “But damn, tell them what it’s going to cost.”

Colstrip Power Plant is serviced by a company town of the same name, with little purpose other than mining and burning coal to power Pacific Northwest cities.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.