Colstrip Power Plant Seeks to Keep Workers and Cheaper Coal

Power plant says it's offering benefits and guaranteed severance packages to encourage workers to stay

By Associated Press

BILLINGS – The operator of a coal-fired power plant in eastern Montana that plans to shut down two of its four units this year says it’s offering benefits and guaranteed severance packages to encourage workers to stay.

The Billings Gazette reports that Talen Energy Montana President Dale Lebsack told lawmakers the company keeps losing money at the Colstrip Steam Electric Station’s Units 1 and 2 because of high coal prices.

Lebsack said that and worker attrition could affect the profitability of the plant’s other units.

Talen plans to close the older units in December — about 30 months ahead of schedule — because of the high cost of running them and the unwillingness of Colstrip’s next-door coal supplier, Westmoreland Rosebud Mining, to lower prices.

The newer Colstrip units generate most of the 2,100-megawatt plant’s output and are owned by six companies. Those units will continue operating despite worker concerns they also may be shuttered early.

Demand for coal is dropping as utilities turn to cheap natural gas and renewable energy. Pollution rules have increased the cost of coal power.

“From our perspective, our primary focus right now as it relates to Units 3 and 4 is to keep the units running and to keep them economically viable,” Lebsack told the Montana Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee.

“I mean, we’re focused on things like, you know, making sure that we have a workforce, when attrition, you know, climbed over 10% at Colstrip last year,” he said.

About a third of the plant’s 330 employees work with Units 1 and 2, and Talen plans to keep as many of them as possible once they close Dec. 31, Lebsack said.

“Our hardworking employees have continued to do a great job safely and reliably operating the plant, despite the uncertainty that surrounds Colstrip,” Lebsack said. “However, this uncertainty has contributed to an increase in attrition.”

Talen’s benefits and severance offers come after union members voted recently to ratify a three-year collective bargaining agreement.