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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 27th, 2020

Contact: MEIC’s Anne Hedges, (406) 461-9546, ahedges@meic.org

HELENA, MT – This morning the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) protected NorthWestern Energy’s (NorthWestern) customers by denying NorthWestern $9.9 million in rate recovery, primarily for replacement power associated with an outage of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant during the summer of 2018 (PSC Docket 2019.09.058). The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and the Montana Consumer Counsel argued against NorthWestern overcharging customers for the Colstrip plant’s violation of rules limiting toxic air pollution that can cause cancer or other serious health problems, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). NorthWestern is publicly listed on the NASDAQ exchange as NWE.

In June 2018 the Colstrip coal-fired power plant violated the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) requirement of the federal and state Clean Air Acts. The violation resulted in a $450,000 settlement with DEQ when it found that the outage was “foreseeable” and that the owners failed to take “reasonable precautions to avoid the violation.” Yet NorthWestern still tried to force its customers to pay millions more in costs for replacement power during the outage.

Earlier this year, regulators in Washington state denied $15.4 million in cost recovery to the three Washington-based utilities that also tried to recover costs for the same outage. The Montana PSC cited the Washington regulatory decision as helping to determine that NorthWestern was also not entitled to cost recovery

“NorthWestern cannot be trusted to look out for its Montana consumers. That’s why the PSC must do so,” said Anne Hedges, MEIC Deputy Director. “If the PSC had let NorthWestern have its way, customers would have been forced to shoulder almost $10 million extra in costs. Customers are hurting from the pandemic. It’s shameful that NorthWestern tried to force them to pay even more in utility bills for mistakes made by NorthWestern’s management.”

“Colstrip is already NorthWestern’s most expensive resource,” Hedges said. “The failure of the plant to comply with the most critical public health protections, thus making the plant even more expensive, undermines NorthWestern’s argument that it should buy a larger share of the plant. Had NorthWestern owned more of the plant it could have faced even higher costs for this outage, replacement power, and the DEQ penalty.”

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