Montana coal power plant closing two units built in 1970s

Montana coal power plant closing two units built in 1970s

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Colstrip power plant

The Colstrip power plant, including units 1 and 2, is shown in January 2019. 

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the western U.S. will close two of its four units by Saturday as the Montana facility edges toward an eventual total shutdown.

Colstrip Units 1 and 2 — built in the 1970s when massive strip mines were being developed across Montana and Wyoming — will close as soon as they run out of coal to burn, Talen Energy spokeswoman Taryne Williams said Thursday.

The plant employs about 300 people and is the main driver of the economy for the surrounding town of Colstrip, which has about 2,300 people. But it's been unable to compete with surging investments into renewable energy and cheap natural gas, even as the coal plant's operating costs have risen with the need for better pollution controls.

Employees for now will be re-assigned to decommissioning work that will last through mid-2020, Williams said. She said there are “no hard and fast numbers or timelines” as the company considers how many workers will be needed for the remaining two units.

The closure of Units 1 and 2 was long anticipated as demand for U.S. coal collapsed in recent years, and came despite vows by elected officials in Montana to find ways to keep it open.

Six utilities own shares of the remaining two units built in the 1980s. Most are making preparations for operations to cease as early as 2025.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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