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Viewpoint: NorthWestern Energy’s fossil fuel addiction

Our Montana State Constitution makes the promise that “All persons are born free with certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthy environment.” But now every summer we have excessive heat, drought, and wildfire smoke.

Any physician, including myself, will tell you that breathing smoke all day is really, really unhealthy. Smoke also drives tourists away, a big hit to the economy. The smoke from burning coal is even worse, because it contains poisons like mercury and arsenic, especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. 

This month NorthWestern Energy also made a promise — to be carbon neutral by 2050. That’s like an alcoholic promising to quit drinking — but not until 2050, too little too late. The problem is that NorthWestern enjoys a special “pre-approval statute” that gives them generous financial incentives to build and run big, expensive fossil fuel plants.

For example, Colstrip has reached retirement age, is half closed, but NorthWestern wants to run its remaining share for another 20 years. They also plan to spend $275 million to build the first of a series of methane powered generating plants, a herd of cash cows. 

NorthWestern is addicted to fossil fuels, and needs an intervention from us, their ratepayers. To this end, Missoula’s District Court heard a lawsuit challenging the sweetheart “pre-approval” deal on Wednesday. Should this challenge succeed, Colstrip may close long before 2042, and NorthWestern may start investing in more wind, as well as solar and battery storage, since this combination is currently the cheapest way to generate electricity, not fossil fuels.

All NorthWestern Energy’s ratepayers are asking is that NorthWestern change with the times, but to do it now, not in 2050.