By - Jim Vess

Two coal-fired units at Montana’s Colstrip Power Station to close at year’s end

Energize Weekly, June 19, 2019

Two of the four coal-fired units at Colstrip Power Plant in eastern Montana will close at the end of the year – 30 months ahead of schedule, the operator, Talen Energy, announced on June 11.

A controversial legislative effort to save the Colstrip plant died in the Montana legislature this session. Supporters of the bailout argued the early closure would lead to brownouts for the utility’s 37,000 Montana customers.

“The decision to retire Colstrip Units 1 and 2 comes after extensive review and exhaustive efforts over the last few years to address the financial challenges these units face,” Dale Lebsack, Talen Montana president, said in a statement.

Talen is the plant operator, but six utilities have some share in the plant’s four units. Talen and Puget Sound Energy have equal shares in the two units targeted for closure. Two other units will continue to operate. They account for the bulk of the plants 2,100-megawatt output.

The two units closing represent about 614 megawatts of generating capacity and had been slated to close in mid-2022 as part of the settlement in an environmental lawsuit.

“We have been unsuccessful in making the units economically viable,” Lebsack said. “Fuel constitutes the bulk of our operating costs and our repeated efforts to negotiate lower fuel prices with Westmoreland Rosebud Mining, the plant’s sole and only historically permitted fuel supplier, have been rebuffed.”

The Westmoreland Coal Co., the country’s largest independent coal producer, emerged from bankruptcy in March as a private company. The Rosebud Mine, also in Colstrip, supplied the power plant.

Lebsack said the Westmoreland is proposing to increase “fuel costs going forward.”

Colstrip is a town of about 2,000 in the southeast corner of the state, and the mine and power plant have been key employers. The power plant employs 320 people.

Talen Montana said it would look to redeploy affected Colstrip employees to work on unit 1 and 2 retirement or the operation and maintenance of units 3 and 4.

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