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Trump administration taking steps to save coal plants; effect on Colstrip unclear

Posted at 11:44 PM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-02 01:44:55-04

In what could be an important lifeline for Colstrip and its coal-fired power plants, President Donald Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry Friday to "take immediate steps" to prevent the future closures of coal and nuclear power plants around the nation.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president’s action is due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid’s resilience.

That was the same argument presented to Department of Energy officials during a meeting in Colstrip on Wednesday of this week.

The proposal is still a long way from reality, and a coalition of wind, solar and oil energy companies are already criticizing what they call a bailout, according to The Hill.

Although specific details have yet to be released, Montana state Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said he believes the president’s order is part of an effort to protect federal government assets.

"It’s high time someone realized the importance and the reliability of the grid.  The federal government has a lot of assets in the Pacific Northwest.  They feel that Colstrip is definitely an asset that needs to stay on line in order to provide reliable electricity to their assets in the Northwest," Ankney said.

Colstrip’s two oldest units, 1 and 2, are slated to shut down by 2022 as part of a settlement agreement between the plant’s owners and utility regulators in Washington state, where Colstrip sells most of its power. The lifetime of newer units 3 and 4 is a bit murkier, but one owner, Puget Sound Energy, has identified 2027 as the date it would shed its share of the plant. The other five owners would need to agree on a shutdown.

Bloomberg News obtained a Department of Energy memo that orders grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants that are at risk of closure – because of cheaper energy available from renewable sources and natural gas.

Ankney said it’s still unclear how the order will affect the Colstrip plants, but said he plans to talk with Energy officials next week to learn more details.

See also: Colstrip big topic at Montana energy summit