HELENA — If “worse came to worse” and lawmakers in either Washington or Oregon pass legislation that could lead to a partial shutdown of the coal-fired power plants in Colstrip, Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, wants Montana to be ready.

Legislators should have a draft bill to handle the fallout from the possible closure of Units 1 and 2 ready to go, Brenden said Wednesday as the Environmental Quality Council discussed the coal plant's future.

Lawmakers from Oregon and Washington discussed their proposals by phone with members of the EQC on Wednesday.

Puget Sound Energy, Colstrip's largest owner, wrote a bill introduced Tuesday in the Washington Legislature that would allow the utility to buy out Talen Energy's interest in the plant's newer Unit 3, on the condition that it move to decommission the two oldest units. The bill comes after Washington lawmakers last year rejected legislation calling for Puget Sound Energy to shut down Units 1 and 2.

In Oregon, Portland General Electric and PacificCorp. — two more Colstrip owners — helped write legislation to wean that state off coal-produced electricity by 2035. The final version of that bill is now being drafted for the upcoming Oregon legislative session, said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, chairwoman of the Oregon House Energy and Environment Committee.

Oregon's legislation would prohibit the state from using electricity from Colstrip by 2035, but the Oregon utilities could sell the power to other customers or on the open market, Vega Pederson said.

Colstrip is owned by six utilities that are headquartered in other states, and only one — NorthWestern Energy — uses Colstrip electricity to power homes and businesses in Montana.

Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the chairman of Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, said his state's legislation could change over the course of the legislative session and he plans to listen to what Montana officials have to say.

"We will work together to get a solution that benefits both states," he said.

It takes 76 legislators to call a special session in Montana; one can also be called by the governor.

“We need to draft a bill just in case the state of Montana needs it,” Brenden said. “I think we should be ready to call a special session.”

“We cannot kill Montana’s economy and we can’t kill certain areas in Montana,” Brenden said. “It’s just too darn important.”

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State Sen. Jim Keane, D-Butte, said one issue overlooked in the discussion about the power sent out of state by Colstrip is Montana’s own industries.

“Everybody talks about 1 and 2, the power going to Washington,” Keane said. “Washington takes 300 megawatts and the big industries in Montana take 300 megawatts.”

REC Silicon, which operates just outside Butte, is the No. 1 user of electricity in the state and gets its power from Colstrip, Keane said.

Montana Resource’s copper mine in Butte uses “at least 50 megawatts 24/7, 365 days a year,” Keane said. If the mine had to go on the open market to buy that power, he said, it would increase its operating costs by $9.5 million a year.

“It would be detrimental to the state of Montana, and I think this is going to be one of the biggest issues we face in the next legislative session,” Keane said.

State Sen. Rick, R-Wolf Creek, called the trip Montana legislators took to Spokane to meet with their counterparts last year “beneficial.”

“They realized they were way out in front of some legislation they shouldn’t have been,” he said.

Montana made the decision long ago to allow out-of-state utilities to own Colstrip, and the plant's future is largely out of the state's hands, said Anne Hedges, deputy executive director for the Montana Environmental Information Center.

"If we want to have a say in how the closure of Colstrip occurs over the next 20 years, the time is now to step up," Hedges said.

Montana Rep. Ed Lieser, D-Whitefish, said the state has little leverage to influence the out-of-state legislation. He backed a recommendation by Rep. Janet Ellis, D-Helena, that state officials focus on lobbying Washington state lawmakers to include a site cleanup and job-training package in its bill.

"The best thing to do is to cut the best deal we can for the citizens of Colstrip," he said.

But Keane, Brendan and Republican Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek, said the focus must be on protecting the plant. Rep. Kerry White suggested a bill in the 2017 session to buy Colstrip with money from the state's coal severance tax fund.

The committee voted to send Keane and Ripley to Olympia to testify on the Washington state bill.

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