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Colstrip steam

Steam rises from Colstrip power plants as residents, officials and members of the Colstrip Community Impact Advisory Group meet to explain the $10 million Puget Sound Energy settlement agreement.

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

The community of Colstrip has agreed to a $4.5 million payment from Avista Corp. to help the community transition beyond coal.

Spokane-based Avista, one of six utility owners of Colstrip power plant, is clearing the way for its $5.3 billion sale to Hydro One of Ontario, Canada. The sale requires the approval of utility commissions in every state in which Avista has customers.

Colstrip Mayor John Williams signed off on the transition funding this week. Williams did not return calls Wednesday.

Montana AFL-CIO is expected to request worker training funding at a Thursday hearing in Helena when the Montana Public Service Commission gets its turn to consider the sale.

Avista’s offer to Colstrip has increased $1.5 million since March, when the utility indicated there was no cap on what was then a $3 million transition funding offer presented to utility commissions in Washington and Idaho.

In those states, Avista agreed to put a December 2027 “end of useful life” date for depreciation purposes on Colstrip Units 3 and 4, of which it owns a 15-percent share. That means the utility will be financially ready to close Colstrip in nine years.

However, Avista has not agreed on an actual shutdown date for Colstrip. The utility did agree in its Idaho proceeding to look into closing Colstrip by the end of 2027, while considering other dates as well. Previously Avista indicated Colstrip could operate until the mid-2030s.

Colstrip’s largest shareholder, Puget Sound Energy, has also agreed to be financially ready for power plant closure in nine years. The Seattle-area utility has also not specified an actual shutdown date. Puget has pledged $10 million in transition money to help the Colstrip community move beyond the closure of the power plant.

Washington utilities are facing increasing political pressure to address climate change by abandoning coal power. Similarly in Oregon, Colstrip stakeholders Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp are required to stop delivering coal power to customers.

PacifiCorp must end coal power transmissions by 2030. Portland General Electric must stop by 2035. PGE will begin tapering off coal power by 2025 and be almost off by 2030. Renewable energy must also be half of PGE’s portfolio by 2040.

The other two Colstrip stakeholders are NorthWestern Energy in Montana and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania.

Talen and Puget Sound Energy own Colstrip Units 1 and 2 equally and have agreed to close them within five years to settle an air pollution lawsuit. Talen has 30 percent ownership of Unit 3.

Montana’s PSC gets to weigh in on the sale not because of Colstrip, but because Avista has a small number of customers in northwest Montana, where it operates Noxon Dam.

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