Bozeman, Montana: Efforts to Prop Up Coal Will Fail, May 11, 2021
Montana and Wyoming find themselves increasingly isolated in what will ultimately be futile attempts to prop up a declining coal industry that seems doomed to go down in a flurry of ill-advised legislation and expensive lawsuits.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte recently signed a pair of bills intended to bolster future prospects for the beleaguered Colstrip power plant by essentially forcing unwilling out-of-state majority co-owners of the plant to invest in costly repairs for the aging generating facilities. A pair of those companies immediately filed a lawsuit in federal court contending the bills unconstitutionally interfere with a private business contract.
Wyoming, meanwhile, is suing other states that are cutting off coal they import from Wyoming. That state’s legislature has appropriated more than $1 million just to pay for those lawsuits.
While efforts to stop the decline of the coal industry and its impacts on communities that depend on coal production are understandable, the handwriting is on the wall.
Washington and Oregon — where Colstrip co-owners operate — both have laws on the books requiring their utilities to stop buying electricity generated with coal in the next few years. Voters in those states have made it clear they want to move to cleaner alternatives. In the early 2000’s coal accounted for about half of the nation’s total power consumption. Today, as a result of the national movement away from coal over climate change concerns, that has dwindled to less than 20%. Similar trends are occurring in other nations around the world.
The movement away from coal is strong and gaining momentum. While the impacts on coal-dependent communities like Colstrip are unfortunate, Montana and Wyoming are unlikely to reverse these trends in their legislatures or in the courts.
Both states have tremendous potential for producing wind and solar energy. State policymakers and utilities need to find ways to exploit that potential. The Judith Gap Wind Farm has been successfully producing power for more than 15 years. Those efforts need to be expanded. Solar power production has been developed extensively in other states, and the same can be done here.
Trying to litigate and legislate the nation back to greater coal dependency is going to cost Montana and Wyoming taxpayers and ratepayers a lot of money. And in the end, it’s going to fail.
BILLINGS, Mont. — The majority owners of a coal-fired power plant in southern Montana filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging a bill signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte unconstitutionally interferes with a private business contract that has governed the operation of the Colstrip power plant for 40 years.
Gianforte, a Republican, described the new law and a second measure affecting Colstrip as retaliation against Washington clean energy laws that have imposed an upcoming ban on coal power in that state over climate change concerns.
Four owners of the Colstrip power plant do business in Washington, where most of the plant’s energy is consumed. In 2019, the Washington legislature passed a bill to ban the use of coal-generated power in the state by the end of 2025.
“Affordable power generated in Colstrip helped build Seattle’s big tech economy, but now woke, overzealous regulators in Washington state are punishing the people of Colstrip with their anti-coal agenda,” Gianforte said in a statement after he signed the bills on Monday.
Oregon has a similar ban on coal power beginning in 2030, so some of the power plant owners have been reluctant to spend money on repairs that aren’t necessary to keep the plant running past 2025, The Billings Gazette reported.