HELENA – An environmental group that says NorthWestern Energy may be considering buying power plants owned by PPL Montana asked the state Public Service Commission on Friday to produce any correspondence or documents it has on the possible sale.
But one commissioner said he doubts the request from the Montana Environmental Information Center will turn up much.
“They’re not telling us any more than they’re telling anyone else,” Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, said of the two companies. “I can tell you that everyone is tight-lipped on this.”
Both PPL Montana, which owns 11 hydroelectric plants and several coal-fired plants, and NorthWestern, the state’s largest electric utility, have refused to comment on rumors of a possible transaction.
Industry trade journals have been reporting for almost a year that PPL wants to sell at least some of its Montana power plants, which it bought from NorthWestern’s predecessor, the Montana Power Co., in 1999.
Kavulla said that if NorthWestern planned to buy the power plants, he’s “almost certain” they would have to file for pre-approval by the PSC. The five-member commission, which regulates utilities, would then have at least nine months to review the proposed purchase, he said.
Anne Hedges, program director for MEIC, formally asked the PSC on Friday to produce any agency documents, information or internal or external correspondence, including emails, pertaining to a transaction between PPL Montana and NorthWestern.
Hedges said her group is hearing from reliable sources that NorthWestern wants to buy the PPL plants, and that if the PSC isn’t looking into the sale, it’s not doing its job.
“If the people we’re hearing from know about this pending sale, then it would be a dereliction of duty for the PSC not to know something about it,” she said.
Hedges’ request on Friday comes four days after her group and the Sierra Club asked the PSC to hold a public hearing on the potential sale of PPL Montana’s plants and how best to protect Montana consumers if a sale occurs.
Power produced by the plants makes up a sizable amount of the electricity that NorthWestern supplies its 330,000 Montana customers.
Commissioner Bob Lake, R-Hamilton, on Wednesday rejected the hearing request.
He said since there is no formal filing before the PSC on any acquisition by NorthWestern, there’s no basis for holding a hearing.
“If and when Northwestern seeks PSC approval or pre-approval of its acquisition of a generation resource, there will be plenty of opportunity for interested parties to participate in the PSC proceeding that follows,” Lake wrote in a reply letter.
MEIC and the Sierra Club said they’re concerned that if NorthWestern buys PPL Montana’s coal-fired power plants, Montana consumers “could be saddled with unnecessarily higher energy bills.”
“Montana’s wind power is far cleaner and cheaper than coal,” they said in their request. “Investing further in old coal plants … would be flushing good money down the drain.”