Montana gas plant can resume construction, rules rule

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – NorthWestern Energy will resume construction of a natural gas-fired power plant along the Yellowstone River in Montana after a two-month delay, a company spokesman said Friday, after a judge ruled The state has revived a pollution permit for the project despite ongoing concerns about its climate. changes to emissions.

Work on the $250 million plant was largely halted in April when Judge Michael Moses overturned his permit and said officials had failed to adequately account for the 23 million tonnes of gas to be produced. greenhouse effect that it would emit over several decades.

But Moses overturned his earlier order Thursday night as an appeal by NorthWestern is pending in the Montana Supreme Court. The judge cited an “evolving legal landscape” that includes new state law that eliminates the requirement for state officials to review the climate impacts of emissions.

Moses said restoring the permit could also help avoid future cost increases for customers of NorthWestern, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which had warned that the construction delay would drive up the price of the project.

Many utilities in the United States have replaced coal power with cleaner natural gas plants in recent years. But the industry remains under pressure to ditch fossil fuels altogether as climate change worsens.

The Montana plant would produce up to 175 megawatts of electricity. Its air permit was challenged in a 2021 lawsuit by the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club.

“We need this additional capacity in Montana dedicated to serving our Montana customers for both reliability and affordability,” said Jo Dee Black, spokesperson for Sioux Falls-based NorthWestern. in South Dakota.

The plant is expected to begin serving customers within the next year, Black said. This would ensure that enough electricity is available during times of high demand, such as hot days or cold nights.

To prevent the worst future damage from climate change, including even more extreme weather, the UN chief recently called on wealthy countries to phase out coal, oil and gas by 2040.

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