Colstrip Units 3 & 4 Will Not Shut down In 2027. Here's How We Know:
The Colstrip Steam Electric Station on a warm summer day.
On September 21st an article from the MEIC (Montana Environmental Information Center) was printed in the Independent Press, which is the local newspaper for the Colstrip area. The article, titled “The Beginning of the End For Colstrip” was written by MEIC lobbyist Anne Hedges and claimed that all 4 units of the Colstrip power plant could be shutting down in as little as ten years.
We thought it was time to set the record straight. While the fact remains that units 1 & 2 are slated for shutdown by 2022 as a result of a lawsuit brought against the power plant’s owners by the Sierra Club and the MEIC, units 3 & 4 will remain operational for a long time no matter how much Anne Hedges and the MEIC may wish otherwise.
The bottom line is this: For the newer Colstrip Units 3 and 4, the schedule for depreciating those investments has been accelerated from a period ending in 2045 to one ending in 2027. This does not mean that Units 3 and 4 will shut down in 2027; rather it means the money invested in the units will be recovered by then.
Colstrip’s Senator Duane Ankney of District 20 had this to say about the MEIC’s article;
“It is very important to have the facts. Do not pay attention to demoralizing statements made by people such as the MEIC or Sierra Club. Always seek to find out facts for yourself. This document can be found online. It clearly states that de-commissioning of Units 3 & 4 must be agreed upon by ALL owners. That the write down is for accounting purpose only. Puget Sound Energy spokesman Grant Ringel said that the settlement – filed as part of the utility’s rate case – does not set a closure date for units 3 and 4. It was the Sierra Club that fought and got the deprecation schedule included. Those are the cold hard facts. Do not let these groups make you a victim.”
The document that Senator Ankney referred to is a recent letter from Attorney General Tim Fox to the Washington Utility and Trade Commissioners on September 15th. In that letter, Fox stated that “By clarifying that the stipulated depreciation schedule for Colstrip Units 3 & 4 is for accounting purposes only and does not set a retirement date for those Units, the MSA and its supporting Joint Memorandum preserves operational flexibility for an important source of reliable, low- cost baseload power for PSE customers while implicitly acknowledging that any decision regarding the Units' eventual retirement must be jointly made by all six of the Units' owners.“
The entire letter from Attorney General Fox to the Washington Utility and Trade Commissioners can be found online here.
And yet, despite the facts pointing to a not-so-grim outlook for the Colstrip's two newer generating units, groups like the MEIC and Sierra Club choose to paint the most negative picture possible, writing articles with titles like "The Beginning of the End For Colstrip" designed to scare the public.
Lori Shaw of Colstrip United questioned the motives of the MEIC targeting Colstrip’s local paper with their recent article;
“Anne Hedges has meticulously made efforts to paint herself as an authority on all things coal and Colstrip, when in reality she is none of those things. She is simply a radical activist, a lawyer, and a lobbyist that wants to see the end of coal in Montana. Something that everyone in Colstrip and the rest of Montana should ask themselves when reading an article or quote coming from the MEIC is this; What is their game? Why are they putting such a huge effort into trying to make the public believe that Colstrip’s entire power plant is done for? They do it because this is a common tactic that is implemented by many propaganda groups: If you make the public believe it first, then maybe you can make it come true.
We have news for the MEIC; Colstrip isn’t buying it and neither is the majority of Montana.”