Uncertain Future Lies Ahead for Colstrip

In the small town of Colstrip in southeastern Montana, smiling children ride their bikes to school, residents run and walk along the miles of bike paths, and the whole town shows up to the Friday night football game. For years residents of Colstrip have been living in the shadows of four massive smoke stacks at the Colstrip Power Plant. This power plant doesn’t just provide electricity, however, it also provides numerous benefits to the Colstrip and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, this may all change due to a decision made by the owners of the Colstrip Power Plant.

Due to a decision made recently by Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy (PSE), owners of units 1 and 2 in Colstrip, two of the four units at the Colstrip Power Plant will be retired by July of 2022. This decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and the Sierra Club. This lawsuit stems from alleged violations of the Clear Air Act by the Colstrip Power Plant.

In a statement made by MEIC Deputy Director, Anne Hedges, she states, “This agreement provides certainty for addressing grievous pollution issues and gives the two units six years to go offline.” Hedges goes on the say, “We need to begin creating a plan to tap Montana’s abundant wind energy and continue supplying electricity to West Coast markets. Those markets are demanding cleaner energy and we have the ability to provide them with a 21st Century energy source.”

Many residents do not completely agree with this decision though. They claim that the employee’s at the power plant, and at the mine, which provides coal to the power plant, were not taken into consideration during the decision.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock backs the community of Colstrip and the employee’s of the mine and power plant. In an article written for the Billings Gazette, Bullock says, “The parties in the lawsuit took care of themselves. There’s nothing about the workers, nothing about the community.” Bullock also explains that he will do his best to lessen the impact on the area but recognized that he cannot reverse the decision.

One place that will face some major changes due to this closure is the Colstrip School District. Some signs of change have already become evident. Russ Davidson, a history teacher at Colstrip High School and long time Colstrip resident, discusses how recent happenings have shown the change approaching.

Davidson explains that, “Teachers don’t want to come here because they are afraid of how long they will have jobs.” Davidson goes on to explain what he expects to see in the future of the school district. “I see AP classes being reduced because we will no long be able to afford the salaries that are needed to recruit and retain teachers with Master’s degrees.”

Davidson also expects to so see more teachers doing “double duty” by teaching at the middle school and high school. “I do not expect to see teacher layoffs,” says Davidson. “there are so many of us retiring or near retirement so when we retire they will simply not fill positions.”

As 2022 draws closer and more forms of renewable energy are considered Colstrip residents will see some major changes to their community. Some families may have to move away from Colstrip to find jobs, some may find jobs in the blossoming field of wind energy, there is just no telling what is in store for the small Montanan town.