MDU & Commissioners Gather in Sidney:
Meeting Held to Get Locals' Input on the Possible Retirement of Coal Power Generating Plants & the Savage Coal Mine
March 4, 2020 | View PDF
Last Tuesday, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. representatives and municipal officials met at the Richland County Event Center to present their Integrated Resource Plan involving the tentative closure of coal fire power generating units before opening up the floor for the public to weigh in and finally, to present questions.
The MDU Integrated Resource Plan is filed bi-annually with the Montana Public Service Commission.
"In that study we look at all of our customer needs for demand, how much generation we need to generate for our customers in the states of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. To meet those needs of our customers not only do we look at generative resources-- our current ones, we also look at new options and also customer programs that are a part of that. The result of that ends up being an action plan that we put together, we file with the commission, and that's what we put forward in the next 2-5 years," says Darcy Neigum, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. Systems Operation and Planning Manager.
Throughout the study, MDU has been meeting with public officials, commissioners, and decision-makers. The analysis involves continued operations versus discontinued operations. "There's an $11 million savings, spread among the entire Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota service area. So based on our analysis, and the assumptions that we use, it provides a savings to customers of just over $20 million on an annual basis," says Neigum.
Officials are planning for the decommissioning and demolishment of the two Haskett Coal Fire Units and the single Lewis & Clark coal fire unit. Funds for decommissioning the three plants involved are in reserve; Montana utility customers will not have to pay additionally when the plant comes down, according to the MDU.
"With the retirement, both facilities will be decommissioned and demolished. We will retain some plant employees at both plant facilities to help with those initial decommissioning operations. At both facilities, there are additional units in addition to the coal fire units, both stations have gas fire units, those will remain. So there will be employees that remain at the facilities at both locations. The Lewis & Clark Station will have four employees retained. At Heskett Station, seven employees will be retained. We are working with Sidney Sugars to make sure the water supply line that they share with us continues to operate and also working on providing natural gas if they should choose to replace their boilers with natural gas. We have reached out to both Richland County and the community of Sidney to discuss the company's analysis and, more appropriately, to discuss transition operations for the community--those offers still stand. We would still like to be able to help the community transition after the retirement of the Lewis & Clark Station," says Jay Skabo, MDU Vice President of Electric Supply.
Since the announcement of the retirement of the stations, MDU has had a significant amount of employee turnover, particularly at the Heskett Station. "We are working with employees on retention packages to encourage them to stay until the end of the life of the plants. We're also providing retraining so hopefully we can retain all these employees within the MDU family," says Skabo.
There were concerns raised with the community, particularly, those in Savage where the coal mine operates. The mine provides the vital fuel source for the plants, jobs for the community, and a primary source of revenue for the Savage School.
"My biggest concern is as you've had years to plan, the Savage school has not. We need that coal gross proceeds of $125,000 a year of revenue. See, we only have 583 taxpayers in Savage. We're not really populated. Our people are not only miners, our people also are farmers. Our people help bring those sugar beets in. I cannot produce more children for my school when those families move. I cannot guarantee that we will have enough funding to run. This loss will be devastating to our 583 resident taxpayers and our students," says Martha Potter, Savage School Superintendent.
"I am a coal miners daughter. I'm a taxpayer that lives in Savage and I own my own business in Savage. With all this going on, we're going to lose kids. With those kids, we're going to lose families. With those families, we're going to lose businesses and mine's going to be one of them," says Michelle Miller, Restaurant/Bar Owner & Savage School employee.
"Our efficient coal plant is supposed to go away because it's no longer competitive with other subsidized resources. We're destroying part of a diverse community here. We have dryland, we have irrigated, we have our sugar beet factory, we're getting into the hemp business--we can do anything we want here. We've got our own power here. And you're going to take that out of the mix, it's just like a Jenga, you pull out that bottom block and it throws things out of balance and there's going to be some more blocks fall off," Scott Staffanson, Richland County resident.
MDU originally filed its Integrated Resource Plan (2019.07.043) with the Montana Public Service commission on 7-12-2019. The Montana Public Service Commission accepted written comments on the 2019 Plan through Dec. 23, 2019; however, the comment deadline will likely be extended, in the near future, by the Commission and then comments may be received either by mail or delivery to the Commission, 1701 Prospect Avenue, PO Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620-2601, or by email to [email protected] After reviewing the 2019 Plan and considering public comment, the Commission will issue a general statement indicating whether the plan conforms to guidelines set by Montana law. Mont. Admin. R. 38.5.2012(2).