Colstrip struggles to imagine future without coal - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Colstrip struggles to imagine future without coal

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COLSTRIP - It's an uncertain time in Colstrip these days, as the shutdown date for the town's massive coal-fired power plants inches closer.

Puget Sound Energy, which owns half of the plant's Units 1 & 2, announced last year that June 2022 is the date the two oldest of the Colstrip plants will close.

The Colstrip Power Complex, built in the 1970s and expanded the next decade, sits in the heart of the community, a throwback to the old company towns of Montana's past that seemingly sprouted up overnight.

Coal is king here, and it will be for the foreseeable future. It's been the heart of the region's economy for decades, and many don't want to see it go. In spite of the pending shutdown of Units 1 & 2 by 2022, state Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip is holding out hope.

"I ain't so sure 1 & 2 is going to close in 4 years," said Ankney. "I think there are people out there, if there's money to be made - and there's a demand for your product - you're going to do everything you can to keep that demand satisfied, and make some money on it."

The veteran Montana Republican lawmaker said market conditions will dictate the plant's future, but if and when units 1 & 2 close, their absence will be felt across Montana.

"When 1 & 2 close, you're looking at about a $20 to 25 million dollar hit per year to the state, county and city," Ankney said.

Rosebud County Commissioner Doug Martens says planning ahead is nearly impossible, "things are so up in the air right now, it's really kind of hard to make a plan," said Martens.

Rosebud County is the fourth largest in Montana by land area, and life without Colstrip Units 1 & 2 would admittedly be a struggle, Martens said.

"Between the power plants, all four power plants, and the mine, they pay roughly 85 percent of the taxes that we spend in Rosebud County," Martens said.

Union leader Stacey Yates with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said jobs at the power plant are key to Rosebud County's economy.

"Their concerns are jobs, you know, that's the big thing. Jobs and where we go from here," said Yates.

Yates hopes new coal technology such as carbon capture could pave the way for a bright future in Colstrip.

In fact, the older two plants are in the running to be the focal point of a Department of Energy feasibility study on carbon sequestration. That's a technology where carbon is trapped underground to prevent the gases from entering the atmosphere.

Earlier this week, Colstrip community leaders sat down with the governor and attorney general to begin discussions on how to spend $10 million dollars in community transition funds, money set aside by Puget Sound to help to being the transition away from coal.

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