By Emma Wulfhorst, NBC Montana

HELENA, Mont. — Senate Bill 379, introduced by State Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls), aims to continue the ownership and operation of coal-fired generating units in Colstrip.

The Montana Environmental Information Center says the bill would require customers pick up the entire cost of operating the plant. That includes fuel, reclamation costs and repairs. Combined, experts say costs will surpass $1 billion.

“This travesty here could never pass muster in any kind of a legitimate review,” said Tom Schneider, former senior manager at Western Electricity Coordinating Council. “So it is a legislative grab for NorthWestern. It’s detrimental in every respect to Montana customers and to our economy.”

However, NorthWestern Energy says Montana does not have enough 24/7 energy resources to meet peak demands, which Colstrip could offer. They also say there is no basis for estimating any cost effects.

SB 379 will have its first hearing in the Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday.

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