HELENA — NorthWestern Energy, the state’s dominant electric utility, plans to withdraw its request for regulatory approval of its proposed 175-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant near Laurel, MTN News has learned.
Sources told MTN News the company will file formal documents Tuesday with the state Public Service Commission, suspending its application that asked the PSC to give “pre-approval” for the project.
But it’s not yet clear whether or how the company may proceed with construction of the plant, which had been opposed by many parties in the case before the PSC. Documents that will be filed with the PSC are expected to clarify the company’s plans.
The company submitted that proposal several months ago, along with plans to acquire a 50-megawatt battery-storage project near Billings, saying the projects are needed to help supply its 388,000 Montana electric customers in future years.
NorthWestern Energy officials declined to comment to MTN News Tuesday morning.
Pre-approval for the projects would allow NorthWestern to place them into rates, charging customers for the cost for years to come.
Company officials had said the net cost of the plans, along with the purchase of more power from a Canadian firm over the next five years, would be close to zero for customers.
But the proposed natural-gas plant has run into a buzzsaw of criticism from many quarters, including environmentalists, some of Montana’s major cities and others, who said it was too costly and too dirty, when cheaper, cleaner alternatives should be available.
Other parties in the case, known as “intervenors,” had been preparing to submit testimony to the PSC by October 1.
John Hines, NorthWestern’s vice president for supply, has defended the natural-gas plant as a necessary, reliable long-term power source for customers – and noted that NorthWestern has an energy mix that is nearly two-thirds renewable, or higher than most electric utilities in the nation.