Opinion: Bad bill clears NW Energy for dirty power, rate hikes

As a college student paying my way through school, my least favorite day of the month is the day my roommates and I sit down to pay bills. Tom Richman’s Senate Bill 331 plans to make that day worse for Montanans.

Senate Bill 331 basically hands Northwestern Energy a blank check to hike utility rates in order to pay for their investment in coal. The best part? This bill gets rid of any oversight from the Public Service Commission, which is in place to protect consumers from high rates or predatory practices from monopolies.

Some people are calling this bill the “save colstrip bill”, but with ratepayers on the hook for any clean up costs, Northwestern Energy could easily shutdown Colstrip at no cost to themselves. This bill provides Northwestern just as much incentive to shut down Coalstrip early as it does to keep it open.

Along with the bill doing nothing to protect Colstrip, it’s also just a risky investment. Washington, California and Oregon are some of the largest purchasers of Montana energy and all three states have passed bills saying that they plan to divest their energy generation from fossil fuels. If investing in buying more shares in Colstrip was a sound investment, the Public Service Commision would approve using ratepayers money.

Senate Bill 311’s states there’s a $75 million dollar cap before the PSC is allowed to get involved, however the ambiguous language used in the bill could still leave ratepayers on the line for any clean up, and does not technically apply to transmission lines the bill would allow Northwestern to buy without any oversight.

Please, tell your representative to vote “no” on Senate Bill 331.