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Colstrip big topic at Montana energy summit

Posted at 11:04 AM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 13:04:30-04

BILLINGS – Energy is the name of the game this week as Billings hosts the Montana Energy Summit 2018.

This week’s discussions offer a snapshot of the various moving parts on the U.S. Energy scene, ranging from the future of Colstrip to an update on the Keystone Pipeline to the latest on a proposed coal port in Washington State. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) got a jump start as host on Wednesday leading a tour of top U.S. energy officials to Colstrip and a round-table discussion.

With Colstrip units 1 & 2 slated for shutdown in 2022, most people are focusing now on Colstrip’s transition away from coal. But Wednesday’s discussion zeroed in on the role that the plant’s two newer units — 3 and 4 — will play in the new U.S. energy scene moving forward.

Neil Chatterjee is one of five members on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is the first FERC commissioner to set foot in Colstrip. He believes Colstrip – like other aging coal fired power plants in the country – may be the key to adding reliability to the world of renewables

“If this plant shuts down because it can’t compete in today’s marketplace, and we find out down the road that we did need this plant for reliability, for resilience, that could be a real problem," Chatterjee said. "The folks in this community make a compelling case about the threat to reliability in this region, if this plant were to shut down. We’ll have to very carefully examine that.”

Ralph Alexander, CEO of Colstrip operator Talen Energy, said the issues at play in Colstrip, represent a microcosm of the entire U.S.energy picture.

“To me, Colstrip is the poster child for what the nation needs to deal with, a country that has so much power supply. Now with renewable energy being mandated, natural gas, and not enough demand. So you have an imbalance…what do you do?" Alexander said.

Talen announced two years ago that it would relinquish its role as operator of the Colstrip Generating Complex. But Alexander has a different plan and convinced the company to take a renewed look, and he says they’re in it for the long haul.

Exactly how Colstrip and Montana coal fits into America’s energy puzzle remains a work in progress, but Sen. Daines remains convinced its a bright one. Opportunities include providing coal to growing markets in Japan, Korea and China, or helping move America’s energy grid into its next generation.

Below is a video of an interview MTN News did with Daines Wednesday in Colstrip:

And here’s a list of speakers: