Advanced closure of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 draws concern from Montana Chamber of Commerce

The decision to advance the closure of Units 1 and 2 of the Talen Montana-owned Colstrip Power Plant three years ahead of the scheduled date has drawn the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s concern.

Talen Montana announced earlier last month that it will operate the units until the end of this year instead of the close of 2022.

The deviation from the original plan, which was the 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, came as an unpleasant surprise, with Colstrip residents already bracing for the worst.

“It’s a certainly an unfortunate development we felt from several angles, whether it meant jobs [being affected],” Bridger Mahlum, government relations director for the MCC, told the Montana Business Daily. “That town was constructed around the plant. It’s truly telling when you see that the city of Colstrip is literally around this plant. It’s the center of everything that goes on in this community; it’s really been a part of Eastern Montana.”

Gov. Steve Bullock  

According to Talen Montana’s page on the plant, the facility east of Billings operates four coal-fired generating units capable of producing up to 2,094 megawatts of electricity. Units 1 and 2 are the oldest and began commercial operation almost 45 years ago. Each has about 307 megawatts of generating capacity.

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

Mahlum feared that the earlier shuttering of the units could deprive many of affordable electricity.

“When you have to come in with some alternatives with the closure of [Units] 1 and 2 or maybe even [Units] 3 and 4 in the future, you have to expect that prices may increase for all energy users… that’s obviously going to have an economic ripple effect far beyond the city of Colstrip and Eastern Montana,” 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.

Mahlum did not comment on Bullock’s supposed switch from coal advocate to opponent.

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