Gazette opinion: Speak up on Colstrip aid drafts

The Legislature’s Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee wants to hear from you. The committee has drafted seven bills intended to protect Montana residents and businesses from the impact of the closure of Colstrip Units 1 and 2. The panel has requested public comments on the drafts.

  • LCCOL1 would appropriate $100,000 in the biennium beginning in July 2017 to pay for Montana’s intervention in proceedings before out-of-state utilities or regulators that involve the future of coal-fired power generating facilities in Montana.
  • LCCOL2 is a 24-page draft that would set requirements for decommissioning and remediation of coal-fired generating units.
  • LCCOL3 would transfer $50 million next July from Montana’s coal severance tax permanent fund to a new fund from which the Department of Commerce would make “grants to entities impacted by the closure of a natural resource business.” Although written to help Colstrip, the draft proposal could help any Montana community that lost 100 jobs in timber, mining or coal-fired plants. Transferring money from the permanent fund requires support from three-fourths majorities in the Legislature.
  • LCCOL4 would replace the money LCCOL3 proposes to remove from the permanent fund. That repayment would occur over 25 years by nearly doubling the electrical energy producer’s license tax from $.0002 per kilowatt hour to $.00029. The portion of revenue produced by the rate increase would be deposited into the coal severance tax permanent fund. As drafted, LCCOL3 would be void if LCCOL4 didn’t pass.
  • LCCOL5 would require owners/operators of coal-fired electric plants in Montana to continue to pay property taxes for five years after the plant or unit is retired. Except for 25 percent going to the state general fund, those payments would be split between county, school and workforce training funds in the county where the coal plant was.
  • LCCOL6 proposes to create a five-member task force to review federal law to determine if and how the state can protect private-sector employee benefits and pension funds when natural resource companies go bankrupt or leave the state.
  • LCCOL7 would allow large electric customers to use Universal Systems Benefits money to cover “energy market transition costs.” These large electrical users basically would get a credit for expenses of procuring new energy supplies that would be deducted from what they would otherwise pay for USB. The credit would carry over to future years till it was used up.

Comments on the drafts should be emailed by Aug. 25 to Sonja Nowakowski, committee staff, at with Colstrip in the subject line. Comments also may be mailed

to: Legislative Services Division, Attn: Sonja Nowakowski, P.O. Box 201704, Helena, MT 59620.

Interested citizens may also want to contact lawmakers on the committee. In the Billings and southeastern Montana area, they are: Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, Sen. Robyn Driscoll of Billings and Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings.

Read more here.