NorthWestern’s newest energy roadmap leads to a dead end

NorthWestern Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is released every few years to serve as a roadmap for future power production and a preview of where the company is headed for the next 20 years. The 2023 Northwestern IRP focuses on two main sources of power to serve Montanans: increased Colstrip ownership and the methane-fired power plant in Laurel. In other words, this roadmap would lead us to a dead end of higher bills and more pollution if implemented.

Northwestern claims that there is not enough in-state power production to support its customers through the harsh winters. It plans to acquire a 15% share of Colstrip Units 3 and 4, and complete the Laurel methane-fired plant in 2024 to provide increased energy production for Montana. The plan includes limited mentions of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and continues to claim these are unreliable sources of power that are still more costly and use more land than “natural” gas (methane) and coal. Of course, NorthWestern prefers fossil fuel plants because they are more expensive to build, own, and operate, and the monopoly utility receives guaranteed profits of up to 11% for every dollar it spends.

According to its predictions, NorthWestern plans on using almost three times as much methane gas power as wind and solar over the next two decades. In fact, the plan highlights that carbon pollution will rise significantly between now and 2026 with increased ownership of coal and gas resources in the state. After 2026, there’s only a slight drop in climate pollution until 2030.

NorthWestern promises not to acquire more fossil fuel energy after 2035, leaving us with ten more years of dirty energy development in our state, and only fifteen years after that for them to meet their supposed “net zero by 2050” goal. If you’re wondering how NorthWestern plans to build new fossil fuel power sources until 2035, but achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we are too.

This plan comes during the fight over the construction of the methane-fired plant in Laurel, which NorthWestern is building without legal zoning in place on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Claiming the plant is needed to ensure that Montanans do not lose power, NorthWestern refuses to include scenarios without the plant or consider safer, more affordable options for meeting power needs. This plan is yet another example of NorthWestern doubling down on expensive fossil fuels that make more money for its shareholders while ignoring national trends towards renewables with false claims of cost and reliability issues.

IRP listening sessions were held in mid-August, with Northern Plains members turning up around the state to comment on the plan and voice their concerns. If you would like to comment on the plan, you can do so by clicking here. Submit your comment by August 28th, 2023!

You can tell them that their current road map for Montana’s energy future is a dead end because Montanans want and deserve affordable, reliable, clean energy that protects the people and places we love.

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