Colstrip struggles to imagine future without coal - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Colstrip struggles to imagine future without coal

Posted: Feb 04, 2018 3:18 PM Updated:

It's an uncertain time in Colstrip with change on the horizon as the shutdown date for Colstrip Power Plants 1 and 2 inches closer.

Puget Sound Energy, which owns half of Units 1 and 2, announced last year that June of 2022 is the closure date for the two oldest Colstrip plants.

The Colstrip Power Complex, which was built in the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s, sits in the heart of the community with a population of 2,316 people today.

Coal is king and will be for the foreseeable future. In spite of the pending shutdown of Units 1 and 2 in just four years, State Senator Duane Ankney isn't convinced.

"I ain't so sure one and two is going to close in four years," Ankney said. "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."

According to the veteran Montana lawmaker, market conditions will dictate what happens but if Units 1 and 2 close, their absence will be felt across Montana.

"When one and two close, you're looking at about a $20 to $25 million hit to the state, county, and city," Ankney said.

Rosebud County Commissioner Doug Martens said planning ahead is nearly impossible.

"Things are so up in the air right now," Martens said. "It's really kind of hard to make a plan."

According to Martens, Rosebud County is the fourth largest in Montana and life without Colstrip Units 1 and 2 will be a struggle.

"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 (IBEW) said jobs at the power plant are key to Rosebud County's economy.

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

Yates hopes new coal technology such as carbon capture can 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, which was money set aside by Puget Sound to help begin the transition away from coal.

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