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Settlement imminent in Washington utility rate case related to Colstrip

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HELENA -

Settlement talks are under way on an electric rate case in Washington state that’s related to the Colstrip power plants in Montana.

Sources close to the talks told MTN News Thursday that the proposed settlement likely will include some language on future cleanup costs at Colstrip, where two of the coal-fired power plants are scheduled for shutdown by 2022 – but had no other details on the settlement contents.

The case before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will decide an electric rate-increase request from Puget Sound Energy, a private utility that serves more than 1 million customers in western Washington and is a partial owner of the power plants at Colstrip.

The state of Montana also is a party in the rate case before the Washington UTC, where Attorney General Tim Fox hopes to ensure Montana’s interests are not ignored.

“We believe PSE wants to be a responsible company and meet their legal obligations under Montana and federal law, to cover these cleanup costs,” said Eric Sell, spokesman for Fox. “We just want to be there to ensure that they are preparing responsibly for that to happen.”

Puget Sound, which owns half of Colstrip units 1 and 2, has said it wants to transition away from buying coal-fired power.

However, company officials also have said there’s no talk of shutting down Colstrip plants 3 and 4 in eastern Montana, and that they intend to honor any obligations for cleanup and other costs related to the coming shutdown of plants 1 and 2.

Puget Sound Energy asked the Washington UTC in January to approve a 7.6 percent rate increase for its electric customers.

UTC officials and others told MTN News Thursday that a proposed settlement of the case likely will be filed with the commission within the next 10 days. The commission then would hold hearings on the proposal and decide whether to approve it.

Although Montana is a party in the case, Fox’s office chose not to file expert testimony in the case by a deadline last month. It then filed testimony later, but that testimony was disallowed as evidence in the case last week by a UTC judge.

The judge said the testimony was “irrelevant” and “immaterial” to deciding the case, but that it would still be part of the record.

Sell said Fox’s office does not consider that ruling a setback, because Montana is still a party to the case and can represent the state’s interest.

He also noted that any cleanup or other costs of the closure of Colstrip 1 and 2 will be decided by state and federal environmental officials, and determining those costs are not part of the case before the Washington commission.

Montana wants to make sure that any decision in the rate case related to Colstrip costs will ensure that PSE is properly preparing to be able to pay for those costs, Sell said.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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