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Montana coal-fired power plant needs new operator by May 2018

FILE - In this July 1, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in in Colstrip, Mont. Hoping to end the use of coal power in Washington state, lawmakers are proposing measures to help the state’s three private utilities eliminate the electricity they get from out-of-state coal-fired power plants.
FILE - In this July 1, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in in Colstrip, Mont. Hoping to end the use of coal power in Washington state, lawmakers are proposing measures to help the state’s three private utilities eliminate the electricity they get from out-of-state coal-fired power plants. AP

Owners of a coal-fired power plant in Montana say the company that keeps it running wants out within 2 years.

Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy owns a share of the Colstrip plant and operates the entire facility. Talen officials told the Billings Gazette Tuesday that the company’s role as operator is not economically viable and the plant’s five owners will need a new manager no later than May 23, 2018.

Talen spokesman Todd Martin says the decision is part of the company’s effort to end business operations in Montana.

Colstrip Units 3 and 4 are owned by utilities in Washington and Oregon as well as South Dakota’s Northwestern Energy, which is the largest gas and electric utility in Montana.

Ownership of Units 1 and 2 is split evenly between Talen and Puget Sound Energy.

Grant Ringel of PSE told the Billings Gazette that Talen’s exit as operator won’t be a major factor in Colstrip’s future.

“I’m not sure changing operators changes the dynamics that much compared to the overriding market pressures,” Ringel said, namely low energy prices pulled down by cheap natural gas, which has made coal power less competitive.

Last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee approved a bill allowing Puget Sound Energy to set aside money for the eventual shutdown of two coal-fired electricity plants in Montana.

PSE has said the two coal-fired power plants can be shuttered and dismantled for $49.7 million. Cleaning up the contaminated water and coal waste at the site will take another $85 to $142.7 million. However, the cost to electricity customers to complete the proposed shutdown has not been determined.

The Colstrip Power Plant is the nation's 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases, emitting 13.5 million metric tons annually, according to the EPA. Units 1 and 2 are its oldest and biggest polluters.

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