NorthWestern Energy’s Methane-Fired Power Plant

NorthWestern Energy is recklessly pushing forward with construction of a methane-fired power plant in Laurel, Montana. This project creates financial risks for energy customers while threatening our health, air quality, and climate. Montanans deserve a fair, reliable, and sustainable source of power that protects the people and places we love. The time to act is now!

NorthWestern Energy is putting profits over people...

We Deserve Better!

NorthWestern Energy’s methane-fired power plant disrespects its customers and our communities. The monopoly energy utility has barrelled forward with construction of an enormously expensive and polluting methane-fired power plant in Laurel, MT directly adjacent to the Yellowstone River on land zoned for agricultural use.

Before starting plant construction and without proper zoning approval in place, NorthWestern shifted site locations and funding proposals, presumably to avoid public comment periods. Why is NorthWestern afraid to hear from local residents and customers about this plant? Here’s why:

This plant is bad for our wallets

NorthWestern Energy is out of step with national energy trends. While U.S. states and responsible energy utilities are shifting toward reliable clean energy sources that are safer and more affordable for customers, NorthWestern Energy is doubling down on expensive, polluting fossil fuel sources. Why? Because NorthWestern makes more money by abusing its monopoly status.

NorthWestern’s executives and shareholders make more profit when their power plants cost more money to build and operate. Montana law allows monopoly utilities like NorthWestern Energy to seek guaranteed profits up to 11% for the building, maintenance, and operation of power plants it owns. It’s a rigged system that forces energy customers to line the pockets of corporate investors.

The more dangerous the energy source, the more expensive the plant. Fossil fuel plants like this methane-fired plant have huge price tags due, in part, to the expenses involved to help prevent the many safety and health risks that stem from the dangerous fuels, chemicals, and pollution involved.

NorthWestern Energy is already trying to raise rates for residential customers by almost 30%, and that doesn’t even include the estimated $275 million this plant will cost. How much more will our power bills increase when NorthWestern tries to pass along the cost of this plant to us?

This plant is bad for our health

If completed, NorthWestern Energy’s methane-fired power plant will be designated a Major Source of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). The Environmental Protection Agency says, “Hazardous air pollutants, also known as toxic air pollutants or air toxics, are those pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects.”

A Major Source of Hazardous Air Pollutants means that a plant will emit at least 10 tons of any single HAP per year. The Laurel methane-fired plant will emit ALMOST FIVE TIMES that amount of one carcinogenic* pollutant alone:

49.4 TONS of FORMALDEHYDE POLLUTION EVERY YEAR

* The National Cancer Institute notes that high levels of formaldehyde exposure can cause myeloid leukemia and cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.

The plant will also emit 103.8 tons of Particulate Matter per year, 14.1 tons of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) per year, and 165.4 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) per year.

This plant is bad for our community

The methane-fired plant will require 18 large and loud industrial engines, each of which require a seven story, polluting smokestack sitting on land right next to the Yellowstone River. These massive engines will cause unwanted noise pollution for local residents and visitors who recreate on the parks and public lands adjacent to the plant.

The plant will also require industrial lighting that will increase local light pollution, diminishing night skies and disrupting the sleep of residents nearby.

Noise pollution and light pollution don’t just harm our quality of life, both are linked to significant health impacts which include stress-related illnesses, hormone-related abnormalities, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, and sleep deprivation.

In an act of blatant disregard to the local community and its own customer base, the corporation is ignoring zoning laws, building an industrial project on an area zoned for agricultural use. NorthWestern is also fighting any jurisdiction so they can build the plant without any oversight. Instead of waiting respectfully for clarification from the court regarding jurisdiction, NorthWestern plows forward with construction.

In 2020, the City of Laurel conducted a Five Year Growth Management Policy. Goal number one under the “Land Use” policy was to “Conserve open space and traditional land uses.” This plant flies in the face of that goal by forcing an industrial facility onto local farmland next to recreational lands.

What can you do?

Talk to your neighbors. Get the word out about this plant and the risks it poses to our health and finances.

Talk to your doctor. Ask your doctor if you or your loved ones are at increased risks from this plant. Those with respiratory issues or pulmonary diseases could experience serious impacts if this plant becomes operational.

Contact the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The DEQ is tasked to protect the health and environment of Montana communities. Let them know about your concerns at DEQ.mt.gov/about/ContactUs or by calling (406) 444-2544.

Write a letter to the editor. Share your concerns in a published letter in the Laurel Outlook
(jwebb@laureloutlook.com) or the Billings Gazette (speakup@billingsgazette.com).

Get involved with Northern Plains Resource Council. Contact us at info@northernplains.org or call (406) 248-1154.

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