By Mike Dennison, KXLH

Consumer and environmental advocates teed off Thursday on a new bill meant to help the state’s biggest utility buy more coal-fired power from the Colstrip power plants, saying it would lead to grossly overcharging Montana electricity consumers.

“It’s ludicrous,” said former state Public Service Commissioner Tom Schneider. “If (NorthWestern) acquires additional shares of unneeded power … the ratepayers, under this carve-out legislation, would be responsible for everything.”

Schneider is talking about Senate Bill 379, introduced last week and scheduled for its first hearing next Tuesday, before the Senate Energy Committee.

Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, the sponsor of SB379, told MTN News Thursday he believes his bill could actually lead to lower costs for NorthWestern customers over the long term.

If NorthWestern is prompted to buy a greater share of the Colstrip 3 and 4 plants, it wouldn’t have to build more expensive newer plants, such as natural gas-fired plants, to fulfill power-production needs for its customers, he said.

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