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MT Poll: Kill NorthWestern bid to buy more coal-fired power


Big Sky Connection

Helena, MT – A new poll finds Montanans do not support a bill in the Montana Legislature allowing NorthWestern Energy to buy more coal-fired power from Colstrip. The measure has raised concerns that it would increase ratepayers' bills and sidestep regulation. Comments from Richard Liebert (LEE-bert), ranch owner in Great Falls.

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Critics are concerned a bill allowing NorthWestern Energy to buy more Colstrip energy could pass on costs of more than $700 to each ratepayer annually. (Rachel Cernansky/Flickr)

Eric Tegethoff

April 14, 2021

HELENA, Mont. - Most Montanans are opposed to a bill that would allow NorthWestern Energy to buy greater shares in units at the Colstrip power plant, according to a new survey.

Commissioned by Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund, the poll found 61% of respondents are against Senate Bill 379, which would reduce the Public Service Commission's role in regulating the monopoly utility's purchase and could pass on costs of more than $700 to each ratepayer per year.

"Legislative committees can put all the fig leaves they want on it," said Richard Liebert, a ranch owner in Great Falls, "but it still doesn't change the way NorthWestern Energy is bullying its way past ratepayers and the taxpayers."

All members of the PSC also have come out in opposition to the bill. As utilities in Oregon and Washington abandon coal-fired plants, supporters of SB 379 say the legisation would keep Colstrip running and help the community. It already has passed the state Senate and has a hearing today in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, said sticking with the coal-fired plant is necessary to power Montana during the winter months. However, Liebert said he believes the state should move on to solar and wind.

"Solar and wind farms are good for rural communities, ranchers like me, where we can get lease payments," he said. "That's what they're doing all over Oklahoma, Wyoming and Texas - and those are politically 'red' states, but they see the 'green' benefits for farmers and ranchers."

Public Policy Polling surveyed 922 Montana voters this week for the poll.

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