By Kelia Szpaller, Daily Montanan/Missoula Current

Customers would pay an extra $56 to $86 a year for power if NorthWestern Energy increased its ownership of Colstrip Unit 4 as it proposed to do in 2020, according to an analysis of Senate Bill 379 released Friday by Montana Public Service Commission staff.

During the life of the plant, estimated at 21 years, that would be $611 to $1,250 per customer, said the April 9 memo. Staff also noted those figures don’t include operations, fuel, capital equipment to fix the old facility, or remediation and cleanup.

In the memo, the PSC legislative electric team evaluated the most recent version of the bill approved last week by the Senate. SB379 aims to encourage coal-generated energy production.

Is that $56 — plus operations, fuel, fixes, and any cleanup — a good deal for customers?

Is $86 a bad deal?

And who decides?

As drafted and amended, one problem with the bill is its ambiguity, so it’s hard to know how any deal would play out, according to the PSC analysis. But what’s clear: The memo said the legislation guarantees financial security for the utility, and it places risk and cost responsibility on ratepayers.

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