The majority owner of the Colstrip Power Plants in eastern Montana unveiled its long term economic plan for the Colstrip community.
Puget Sound Energy officials outlined its plans for the Colstrip Generating Station to a Montana Legislative Committee late Monday..
The Washington state utility told members of the House Energy Committee that it will invest more than $200 million in Colstrip between now and 2051.
That figure includes the cost of environmental clean up, the eventual decommissioning of the four coal-fired power plants, and retraining workers. .
Puget Sound Vice President for Customer Operations, Andy Wappler, told MTN News that PSE plans to be a part of the Montana business community well into the future.
Wappler said the company's plan will be job neutral in Colstrip for PSE workers.
In addition to spending millions on remediation efforts in Colstrip, the company plans to retain its current work force to ensure steady employment for Colstrip employees well beyond the anticipated shutdown date of 2022 for Colstrip Units 1 & 2.
In addition, Wappler said 34 of the company's employees now working at Units 1 and 2 will be redeployed to Units 3 and 4.
"We really respect what the people in Colstrip have done for decades in keeping the lights on in western Washington and really across the northwest," said Wappler. "We want them to know all the cleanup work moving forward should provide a chance to have the plants closed without layoffs and hopefully provide some opportunities for people in the future to keep working a family wage jobs."
Between 2020 and 2023, PSE will invest and estimated $77 million at Colstrip.
Wappler said that $18.1 million will be invested in 2020, followed by $16.1 million in 2021, $27.6 million in 2022 and $15.2 million in 2023.
Wappler acknowledged that there will be fewer coal mining jobs in Colstrip in the not-so-distant future, but said those specifics are not clear.
He pointed out that Colstrip Units 3 and 4, the newer more efficient plants, account for two-thirds of the electricity produced from the Colstrip Generating Station, so coal mining jobs will still be needed.
As for whether the new environmental clean-up jobs will be union, or non-union, Wappler said that also remains to be seen.
"We want the citizens and workers in Colstrip to know that we'll live up to our responsibilities to clean things up, and provide new jobs and opportunities in the future," said Wappler.
Meanwhile, not everyone believes the company is looking out for the best interests of Colstrip citizens.
"They're not doing this out of the goodness of their heart, believe me," said state Sen. Duane Ankney (R). "And they can do some things at Colstrip to mitigate some of the impacts on young people and the folks who live and work there. Can they mitigate any of the real estate issues? I doubt it. They could if they wanted to. The money's available. The money in Washington is available in a decommissioning remediation fund."
Ankney sponsored two bills this session that would force any energy company shutting down in Montana to be held accountable for the community's future.
Senate Bill 338 which would have assessed fines to energy companies leaving was tabled on Monday.
However companion bill Senate Bill 339, which would establish a process for the operators to submit an environmental cleanup plan, has received widespread support and continues to move through the legislative process.