BILLINGS- Many of the issues that Montana lawmakers dealt with in Helena this year could likely resurface when lawmakers gather again in two years for the next legislative session.
Issues such as funding Medicaid expansion and dealing with the future of the Colstrip power plants and transmission lines will likely be back on the legislative agenda.
In recent interviews with Q2 News, Billings Republican lawmakers Bill Mercer and Tom Richmond both said they hope to be involved again when the 2021 session convenes.
“There are so many things are going to essentially need to be re-debated and re-analyzed in 2021 – even Medicaid expansion,” said Mercer, a freshman Republican representative. “We’ve got a new sunset on renewed Medicaid expansion. We’re going to have to see how the thing functions in two years.”
Mercer explained that the Medicaid expansion bill that won approval during the session does not include a statutory appropriation, which means lawmakers will have to approve that spending as part of the main budget bill.
“So whether it’s Medicaid expansion, or what we do with transmission across the state starting at Colstrip and moving west, we will start with many of the same issues,” Mercer said.
As for the so-called “Save Colstrip” bill, which died during the session’s final hours, Richmond, a senator, says while that bill is dead, the issue of providing reliable power for Montana consumers is not.
“Baseload power is important to back up renewables of course, but it’s especially important for Yellowstone County because our three refineries are industrial customers, and they need very reliable power,” said Richmond. “The refineries can’t afford to have the lights go off. It needs to be on 24/7, 365 for them.”
Richmond says the closure of the two older Colstrip Units 1 & 2 by 2022 would eliminate one of the primary sources of reliable industrial power across the Northwest. The two newer units 3 &4 don’t have a set closure date, but at least two of their owners have identified 2027 as the end of their useful life.
Richmond says he’s looking forward to a renewed debate over the reliability of the electrical supply.
“Northwestern Energy set the peak demand for their system this past winter,” said Richmond. “There were days in February when they paid more than $900 per megawatt hour purchasing electricity on the open market, because everybody needed electricity and rates went through the ceiling.”
According to Richmond, that resulted in $13 million dollars of added electrical costs that will end up in consumer’s bills due to the frigid February weather.