Smith bill would investigate unknown costs to Washington ratepayers from Montana plant closure

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, today introduced legislation aimed at protecting Washington utility ratepayers from unknown and potentially significant costs related to the closure of a Montana coal plant.

Puget Sound Energy is asking the Legislature and governor for special legal treatment that would allow it to acquire an additional stake in a four-unit coal plant in the town of Colstrip, Montana, for the purpose of having a greater say in when to close two of the units. The way the coal plant closes, said Smith, could make a difference of billions of dollars on the utility bills of PSE’s 1.1 million ratepayers.

Legislation supported by PSE, Smith said, would make its customers responsible for costs including environmental cleanup, costs relating to the efficient operation of the transmission system, legal fees, and impact fees to reimburse Montana for the social and economic loss of its largest industrial facility.

Smith’s bill, HB 2225, requires a comprehensive study on all potential costs and benefits of closing units one and two of the plant, with a report due to the Legislature by December 2015. It also contains what Smith calls a “golden rule” clause, requiring information from Montana be sought and evaluated in the same way Washington would want its input sought and evaluated if another state were passing legislation to shut down a large employer here.

“We have yet to see reliable information and estimates about the extent of the costs involved in shutting down these coal plant units,” said Smith, R-Clinton. “If the Legislature doesn’t do more due diligence, ratepayers could be stuck with massive costs and see their utility bills go up significantly.”

Washington ratepayers would not be the only ones negatively impacted by PSE’s proposal, said Smith.

“We have heard from Montana’s governor and the Montana Public Service Commission asking us to push the pause button on PSE’s coal-closure bill until a more thorough analysis can be conducted,” she said. “It is irresponsible for any state to take unilateral action with such potential devastating impacts to another state’s economy.”


Washington State House Republican Communications