- The Montana House of Representatives has given preliminary approval to legislation authorizing the state to loan $10 million a year to Talen Energy, in order to keep two units at the Colstrip generating facility online.
- The units are slated to close in 2022, under the terms of a court settlement Talen reached with with environmental groups. But the utility has since indicated the plant is no longer "economically viable," and could be shuttered earlier.
- According to the Associated Press, the bill was approved 65-34 but will need to pass a final vote before heading to the Senate.
Talen Energy is losing about $30 million a year on Colstrip, according to the AP, and if it doesn't get financial assistance, the company has indicated it will close the coal plant as early as 2018. It is a familiar story, as coal plants have faced pressure from cheaper generating sources and stricter environmental controls.
Also included in the legislation are preparations for the facility's eventual shutdown, calling for Talen and Puget Sound Energy, co-owners of the plant, to develop plans to deal with the costs of the unit shutdowns.
The 2,100 MW Colstrip power plant faces challenges familiar to coal-burners throughout the United States — competition from cheap natural gas and fuel-less renewables combined with the increased costs of environmental upgrades.
Colstrip Units 1 and 2 have been operating since the 1970s, and are the oldest and smallest generators at the four-unit plant. Each have about 307 MW of generating capacity, according to Talen. Units 3 and 4 each have about 740 MW of capacity.
The Colstrip plant has been the subject of a debate between Washington state and Montana stakeholders with differing views over the plant's future for the past few years. Washington utilities and lawmakers have pushed to close operations at the Colstrip to meet emissions goals, while Montana stakeholders argue closing the plant will have adverse economical impacts on the town. Eventually, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed legislation allowing the state's utilities to begin setting aside funds for the plant's eventual closure.
The plant employs more than 350 people and is also partially owned by Portland General Electric, Avista Corp., PacifiCorp and NorthWestern Energy.