Opinion: Ratepayers shouldn’t serve as NW Energy’s golden parachute for Colstrip

What did we learn from the disastrous failings by the deregulated energy industry in Texas last month? Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, and Northwestern Energy seem to have learned nothing.

Far be it for me to say I could tell you exactly what we need to do in order to make sure our grid is reliable in the face of extreme weather events, but I can tell you with certainty that putting all of the decision-making power into the hands of our monopoly utility is not the answer.

With SB 379, Senator Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, and Northwestern Energy lobbyist David Hoffman are asking Montanans to do just that. They are asking for a guarantee from the PSC that rate payers will finance Colstrip’s “glide path” out of existence.

The bill would saddle rate payers with hundreds of millions in additional debt under the presumption that a golden parachute is the only option for retiring the generating facility. The logic is not only entirely self-serving–guaranteeing NWE shareholders don’t shoulder the costs of irresponsible financial management–but it is reductive and cynical.

Fitzpatrick is worried that legislating on the long-term prospects for renewable energy is too tough. He thinks that we can’t make decisions based on what energy infrastructure might look like ten years from now.

Perhaps I’m a bold crusader, but we don’t need a crystal ball at all–the rest of the world is already ten years ahead of us on clean energy goals. Maybe we could learn something by legislating on the basis of regional successes for the sake of moving into a new era, rather than on a fear that we might remove the lining from Northwestern Energy investors’ pockets.

I don’t want to pay an additional $760 (the Public Service Commission’s presumably low estimate) in order to “give Colstrip its glide path,” but I would be happy paying a bit more knowing that we are thinking about progress, rather than guaranteeing Northwestern Energy is given free rein to capitalize on the market place as it sees fit.

I urge Montanans to contact their legislators and urge a “no vote” on SB 379.

Malcolm Gilbert, Helena