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Pipeline permit for NW Energy natural gas plant in Laurel pulled

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Posted at 8:16 AM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 10:16:57-05

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County commissioners withdrew Thursday a permit allowing NorthWestern Energy to build a pipeline under the Yellowstone River for its proposed natural gas-red power plant in Laurel, allowing the company to refile at a later date.

The withdrawal came a day after Yellowstone County Judge Michael Moses ordered the county to pull the permit because it was granted without proper notification for the public.

NorthWestern Energy is seeking to build the $250 million, 175-megawatt Laurel Generating Station along the northern bank of the Yellowstone River near the city's water treatment plant.

Moses' order was in response to a lawsuit filed by neighbors who are seeking to block the pipeline.

The county's attorney, Jeana Lervick, said in a court document that the county would withdraw the permit and notify NorthWestern Energy. Commissioners will then consider on Tuesday, Jan. 18, whether to hold a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 1, on the matter.

Lervick added that the county does not believe it did anything wrong but is complying with the judge's order.

NorthWestern Energey announced its plans to build the plant in the spring of 2021 to help meet power-load demands throughout the region, and it immediately ran into opposition.

Environmental groups and the cities of Missoula, Bozeman and Helena questioned why the state's Public Service Commission should approve a long-term energy plan relying on fossil fuels.

In response, NorthWestern withdrew it application for pre-approval from the state, which it said would shorten the construction timeline.

The utility hopes to build the plant by 2023.