Large Montana Coal Plant to Close 2 Units

Source:  Billings Gazette   By:  Matthew Brown, Associated Press    July 13, 2016

A large Montana coal plant serving utility customers across the Pacific Northwest agreed Tuesday to shut down two of the four units by 2022 and limit pollution from the plant until that happens, under a settlement with environmentalists who sued over emission violations.

Terms of the partial shutdown of the 2,100-megawatt Colstrip plant were contained in a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Montana.  This move follows a wave of coal plant closures that have transformed the utility industry in the United States as cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas replaces coal as the dominant fuel source for electricity generation…

The state holds almost one-third of the nation’s known coal resources…Colstrip co-owner Puget Sound Energy of Bellevue, Washington said low natural gas prices have made the plant less economic, and without the settlement Colstrip could have been forced to purchase costly pollution controls.  The plant employs about 360 people.  Colstrip Mayor John Williams said even a partial shutdown would have a devastating impact, causing job losses both at the plant and the nearby Rosebud coal mine that provides Colstrip with fuel.

But co-owner Puget Sound Energy said most of the plant’s jobs likely would be retained as Colstrip’s two other units continue operating.  “We know this will be a time of transition in Colstrip.  We have been a part of the community for four decades and we will continue to be there for many years to come, ” PSE President Kimberly Harris said in a statement released by the Bellevue, Washington-based utility.

Plant manager Talen Energy, which is based in Pennsylvania and has been seeking in recent months to exit Colstrip, said there was not set timeline for closing the two units…Combined the two units slated to close generate about 600 megawatts of electricity.  A megawatt can power roughly 1,000 homes, but many of Colstrip’s customers are industrial or commercial.

The 2013 lawsuit from the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center against the plant’s six co-owners said upgrades meant to prolong the life of the plant were made without proper permits…