NorthWestern Energy Not Abandoning Coal Power

By Beacon Staff

BUTTE – Officials with NorthWestern Energy said they aren’t abandoning the use of coal-fired power even as the Obama administration seeks to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

NorthWestern CEO Bob Rowe told Lee Newspapers of Montana in a recent interview that the company does plan to bring on more renewable power and continue programs that encourage energy conservation. But coal still generates about half of the power the company sells its 340,000 Montana electricity customers, he said.

About 15 percent of the company’s power is renewable energy, most of that wind energy.

“Our responsibility is to do what we can to manage the costs for our customers and provide a diversified resource base,” said Rowe, an attorney and former member of the state Public Service Commission. “With any (power source), you ask what the value is … and make a decision.”

On June 26, President Barack Obama announced he would seek to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Rowe said the company’s planning assumes that carbon dioxide emitted by coal- and gas-fired power plants eventually will face federal restrictions, but it also assumes the regulations will take time to develop.

NorthWestern is still buying power from PPL Montana, including energy generated from burning coal.

“Moving forward, we’ll continue to evaluate what we see as an evolving landscape (on carbon regulation), said John Hines, NorthWestern’s vice president of supply. “When there’s more clarity on that, we’ll be making appropriate decisions to provide low risk and lowest cost to our ratepayers.”

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