Montana Coal Council executive director calls expedited closure of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 'unfortunate'

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock  

Earlier last month, Talen Montana announced that it will permanently shut down Units 1 and 2 of its coal-fired plant in Colstrip by the end of this year.

The announcement demonstrated an about-face from previous plans to operate the units until the close of 2022. Dale Lebsack, president of Talen Montana, stated in a company-issued press release on June 11 “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 that these units face.”

The decision to shutter the units in 2022 was a result of a 2016 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center under the federal Clean Air Act, but the advanced closure date came as an unpleasant surprise, with Colstrip residents already bracing for the worst.

Arthur “Bud” Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council, expressed disappointment in the announcement.

“It’s unfortunate that the owners have chosen to expedite the closure when the facility is up-to-date and provides affordable, reliable electricity,” Clinch told Montana Business Daily.

According to Talen Montana’s page on the Colstrip Power Plant, the facility east of Billings operates four coal-fired generating units capable of producing up to 2,094 megawatts of electricity. As the oldest of the units, Units 1 and 2, which were began commercial operation almost 45 years ago, each have about 307 megawatts of generating capacity.

About 300 people work at the plant, according to Talen Montana.

Clinch stated that the company’s decision was “based on their current economic situation” and will negatively affect many.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s going to affect the lives of people who dedicated their careers to their facility,” he said.

In response to the announcement, Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement that “markets and consumer preferences continue to move away from coal, yet this news comes quicker than anticipated.”

Bullock, a Democrat who is in the midst of a presidential campaign, previously championed the coal industry and secured re-election nearly three years ago on a platform to defend “Montana energy and our jobs.” It is alleged that the 53-year-old Bullock’s change in positions on the importance of coal may have something to do with his White House aspirations.

Clinch described the governor’s switch in stance as “unfortunate.”

“When people are involved in elections, they have to speak to their base," he said.

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Montana Coal Council Talen Energy

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