NorthWestern Energy plans to accelerate building of Laurel plant

Kathleen Gilluly
Thursday, September 23, 2021

After Tuesday afternoon’s initial announcement that NWE was pulling it’s application from the Public Service Commission’s permitting process for the proposed natural gas-powered electric generating plant in Laurel, several news outlets and organizations proceeded as if the company was abandoning its plans.

An announcement from The Montana Environmental Information Center titled, “In a victory for clean air and clean energy, NorthWestern Energy withdraws Laurel gas plant application.”

MEIC has opposed the construction of the gas plant since it was proposed because of a number of concerns, including its impact on the climate crisis and the rising costs of gas-fired power compared with renewable energy.

Also offering a celebratory message was Kevin Hamm, candidate for the Public Service Commission, writing, “Congratulations to everyone who stepped up and spoke against this terrible idea. I’m super glad it’s going away.”

An announcement later on Tuesday by NWE, corrected that impression. NWE actually plans to accelerate the building of the plant in Laurel.

“NorthWestern Energy has made the difficult decision to proceed without prior Commission review in order to accelerate the commercial operation date of the Laurel Generating Station and to take full advantage of the favorable supply and labor prices in existing contracts,” stated the release sent by Jo Dee Black, NWE’s public relations specialist.

According to the release, “… timely availability of critical components and escalating labor and construction costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitates the flexibility to expend capital and make commercial decisions in advance of the timeline established by the Montana PSC approval docket.” The accelerated timeline may allow the plant to go online as soon as the 2023-2024 winter season, according to the company.

NWE CEO Bob Rowe cited supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages as justification for proceeding without approval from the PSC. “In addition, energy market conditions continue to trend unfavorably for our Montana customers, with very high market prices, such as those experienced in July, during periods of high regional energy demand.”

NWE’s General Counsel and Vice President of Regulatory and Federal Government Affairs Heather Grahame said, “Montana Public Service Commission review before a large investment in a major supply resource benefits customers and the company by ensuring that the Commission agrees with the company’s approach to meeting its responsibilities to its customers. Our decision to withdraw the approval application is based on the immediate need for flexibility due to unanticipated conditions in the construction market.”

According to the press release, NWE, “anticipates seeking a review and recovery of the asset through a general rate filing after completion,” of the Laurel Generating Station rather than waiting for PSC approval.

As of the Outlook’s deadline, there have been no additional comments by MEIC or Hamm since NWE’s updated plans were announced.


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