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Hardin power plant

Heorot Power's Hardin Generating Facility is seen in April 2017.

NorthWestern Energy is taking a pass on the possibility of acquiring the coal-fired Hardin Generating Facility in Eastern Montana.

NorthWestern notified Beowulf Energy in January that it wasn't interested in the power plant, which has been operating in the red since 2014.

Beowulf owns Rocky Mountain Power, which is the company set up in Hardin to run the plant. The corporate hierarchy includes Heorot Power and Colorado Energy.

The owners of the plant announced the potential for closure last fall unless a buyer stepped in to keep things running. The plant, built in 2006, is supplied by the Absaloka Coal Mine on the Crow Reservation.

Pam Bucy, an attorney representing the plant, said they hoped NorthWestern would add the plant to its portfolio of energy sources.

“We’re pretty disappointed about this, just because it was a good fit,” Bucy said.

In declining to examine the Hardin plant, NorthWestern expressed unease taking over a power plant while it debates a power supply plan with the Montana Public Service Commission.

NorthWestern specifically cited a set of comments released by the PSC in December 2017, which emerged while the owners of the Hardin plant were courting the utility.

The PSC criticized NorthWestern's energy procurement plan, saying that the utility didn't take into account available resources already in the state. Included in the comments was a suggestion by the PSC that NorthWestern look toward the Hardin plant to fill out its resource base.

Chris Puyear, a spokesman for the PSC, said it was "patently ridiculous" that the commission hampered NorthWestern's ability to consider the power plant. He said that that utility ignored the suggestions released by the PSC.

"NorthWestern appears to have completely missed the commission’s comments on their most recent resource plan, which specifically call out the Hardin Generation Station by name as a resource that should be considered to meet future customer demand," he said in an email statement.

NorthWestern also sued over the PSC's decision to shorten contract lengths for power purchase agreements from 25 years to 15.

Amid those factors, NorthWestern chose not to take on the Hardin plant, according to Butch Larcombe, a spokesman for the utility.

Bucy said that the power plant is still courting other entities, which are right now confidential. But the plant's future is far from secured.

If a deal isn't reached by late March, owners of the plant may move to close by the second quarter.

Reporter Tom Lutey contributed to this story.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.