BILLINGS — Northwestern Energy will seek 55 megawatts of additional power generating capacity by 2019 and possibly ten times that much electricity over the next decade to ensure it can satisfy customer demands for electricity, representatives of the utility said Monday.
The move comes as numerous large coal-fired power plants — including Colstrip in eastern Montana — have announced plans to scale back or end operations in coming years. NorthWestern, a partial owner of Colstrip, serves more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Environmental activists protested in front of the utility’s Montana headquarters in Butte on Monday to urge NorthWestern to use more renewable wind and solar energy.
NorthWestern Vice President John Hines said the utility will consider all sources of electricity, including natural gas and renewable energy supplies such as wind and solar. But Hines said gas plants have advantages over renewables because they can be switched on and off quickly during periods of peak electricity use.
The utility will issue a formal request for proposals to meet its most immediate power needs by early next year, NorthWestern Vice President John Hines said.
Activists from the group 350 Montana say documents submitted by the utility to state regulators show NorthWestern is laying the groundwork to build more than a dozen gas plants in coming years at a cost of $1.3 billion.
Company officials rejected the group’s claim. They said a final decision on what kind of plants to build would be made at a later date. They described the $1.3 billion cost estimate as a “placeholder” figure that’s subject to change.
“At this point with the low price of natural gas, it would likely be a consideration. But all of that is way short of a proposal,” NorthWestern spokesman Butch Larcombe said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.