AP NEWS

Guest view: Time for a better solution to Colstrip

March 26, 2017

We owe a debt of gratitude to the hardworking people of Colstrip for their contributions to Montana’s economy. We agree stakeholders in public and private sectors should be working together to ease the transition and retirement of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 which have been a mainstay in the community for nearly 50 years and provided a reliable source of power before the larger Units 3 and 4 were constructed in the mid-1980s.

While we understand the sentiment behind Senate Bill 338, sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, we have grave concerns about the far-reaching scope of the so-called “decommissioning” included in the bill.

Deterring New Business to Montana

The Montana Chamber of Commerce works very hard to create the most optimal business climate in Montana. Our message is that Montana is open for business. Nowhere in this recruiting process are these businesses told that if they have to depart, that they will be assessed an exit fee. As currently written, the bill would require the owners of the Colstrip to pay an “exit fee” to the State of Montana regardless of whether market conditions, laws, and regulatory requirements make retiring the unit the most reasonable decision.

If the state wishes to create an exit impact policy it should be in place and made known to businesses as they locate in Montana so they can factor that into the equation as they make their decision where to locate.

There is Time for a Better Solution

There is a myth that we need to pass this bill now and Montana isn’t paying any attention to Colstrip. The fact is, the Montana Attorney General has been granted intervenor status in Washington State to help represent Montana in Puget Sound Energy’s general rate case proceeding before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

It will be years until Units 1 and 2 are retired and decommissioned.

Meanwhile, the newer, higher employing and more powerful Units 3 and 4 will continue to operate and contribute to the local economy. All four units combined pay approximately 78 percent of property taxes in the City of Colstrip. When Units 1 and 2 are retired and fully decommissioned years from now, Units 3 and 4 will continue to pay 71 percent of local property taxes.

There is time to get this right and we owe it to the people of Colstrip and the entire state to come up with a more workable solution so we do not unintentionally drive these good paying employers out of our state.

In summary, SB 338 is not the right path forward. We have seen many large employers come and go from this state without being asked to pay an exit fee – but this bill singles out the energy industry. In effect, this policy condones punishing businesses for making a perfectly legitimate (and legal) business decision to stop operating. This bill offers no certainty for Colstrip and would set a new precedent that could harm future natural resource investment in Montana.

We agree with the sentiment that we want to do right by Colstrip, but there must be a better way that won’t hurt future investment in Montana and cripple Montana’s ability to attract new businesses to the state.

Brown is the President and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Bob Story is Montana Taxpayers Association Executive Director.