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Montana House passes ‘Save Colstrip’ bill

Posted: 4:48 PM, Apr 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-15 18:48:55-04
Colstrip Power Plant
The Colstrip Power Plants in Colstrip, MT (MTN News file photo)

— Story by Shaylee Ragar – UM Legislative News Service

The Montana House of Representatives on Monday advanced legislation known as the “Save Colstrip” bill, which would incentivize Northwestern Energy to buy more shares of Colstrip’s coal-fired power plant.

Senate Bill 331 passed an initial vote in the House on a 62-38 vote. It has been amended several times, including when a House committee restored oversight from the Public Service Commission in the deal.

Republican Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings, who chairs the committee, said this change was a top priority.

“That was the number one concern I’ve heard about for a month or two, so we took care of that,” Zolnikov said.

The House also removed language that would have allowed Northwestern to pass $75 million worth of decommissioning and remediation costs onto ratepayers.

Most Democrats opposed the bill. Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, says the Senate, which would get another vote on the amended bill if it passes the House, could overturn the amendments and the policy left would be bad for consumers.

“It removes the essential protections to the over 300,000 captive customer,” Pope said.

Multiple news outlets reported that lawmakers made a deal to trade votes on SB 331 for votes for the bill that continues Medicaid expansion. That bill also passed an initial vote Monday in the Senate. Some Republicans had withheld support last week for the government-subsidized healthcare program, which covers about 96,000 Montanans.

SB 331 needs another House vote before it can return to the Senate.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.