The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission yesterday approved a Puget Sound Energy settlement with major implications for Montana’s Colstrip coal-fired power plant. As the Indy previously reported, the settlement allows PSE to pay down all of its existing Colstrip debt by 2027, 18 years earlier than previously planned. It also enables PSE to begin setting aside funds for cleanup at Colstrip units 3 and 4.

“We agree with the parties that the scope of this proceeding distinguishes it as one of the major complex litigations before the commission during the past two decades,” the Washington commission said in a statement Tuesday. “Our order today approves a historic agreement, which addresses, among other things, many challenging issues regarding the Colstrip coal-fired power plants that the commission and parties have grappled with for more than a decade, while resulting in a modest 1 percent increase in electric rates and a nearly 4 percent decrease in natural gas rates.”

In the settlement, originally reached with the state of Montana, the Sierra Club and other plaintiffs in September, PSE committed to paying $10 million into a “transition fund” for Montana communities and workers impacted by the plant’s closure, $5 million of which will come from company shareholders. The deal also outlines the company’s path forward in decommissioning and remediating Colstrip’s older units 1 and 2, which PSE had already agreed to shutter by 2022. According to the Washington utilities commission, PSE will be required to provide reports on its progress in retiring its Colstrip interests, including annual updates on the estimated retirement dates of units 3 and 4. The commission plans to host workshops with PSE and other stakeholders on future use of the transmission lines associated with Colstrip, though dates for those workshops have yet to be determined. Approval of the settlement was tied to PSE’s request to raise its electric rates 1 percent and decrease its natural gas rates 3.9 percent.

In September, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox heralded the settlement, stating that he hopes PSE’s commitment to community assistance inspires other Colstrip owners. In response to yesterday’s decision in Washington, Sierra Club senior campaign representative Mike Scott issued the following statement:

“This settlement means that Colstrip’s biggest owner, Puget Sound Energy, can responsibly end its stake in the coal plant within the next 10 years, while providing an orderly path forward for the community of Colstrip. Like many utilities, PSE is preparing to exit its coal investments for cleaner, cheaper energy sources. Now it’s up to Montana’s leaders to take advantage of the state’s immense wind and solar power potential so that we can continue to provide the types of power that West Coast markets are demanding.”

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