By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette

Colstrip Power Plant

Montana’s utility regulator is warning that the latest bill to bail out Colstrip Power Plant could cost NorthWestern Energy customers as much as $1.9 billion.

The Public Service Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose Senate Bill 379, a bill that places all the financial risks associated with buying more of the troubled power plant on NorthWestern Energy customers.

“The bill, it looks like, is entirely a wish list for NorthWestern Energy. I bear them no ill will, I’m just commenting on the bill, that it’s a complete abrogation of responsibility for NorthWestern shareholders and the transfer of all liabilities to ratepayers. And I find that to be incredibly egregious,” said Commissioner Tony O’Donnell, a Billings Republican.

Basically the bill, brought by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, obliges the utility’s customers to pay for any additional shares of the power plant NorthWestern buys, plus associated repairs and environmental cleanup. Utility regulators wouldn’t be able to reject any purchase considered risky for customers. And, regulators wouldn’t be able to set limits on what customers paid for additional Colstrip shares.

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