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City Desk

Report: Colstrip cleanup would create jobs, save groundwater


Big Sky Connection

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 Eric Tegethoff 

April 4, 2019
HELENA, Montana - A thorough cleanup of the Colstrip Power Plant's coal-ash ponds could provide a major boost for the local economy, according to a new report.

An analysis from the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and agriculture group in Montana, finds that using an extensive process of cleaning up the Colstrip ponds would create an average of 218 jobs a year over the first 10 years.

That's more than double plant owner and operator Talen Energy's proposal, which is estimated to sustain about 91 jobs a year. According to Northern Plains Board Chair Becky Mitchell, extensive cleanup also would help local ranchers.

"Responsible coal-ash cleanup creates hundreds of good-paying jobs for the local workforce over decades," said Mitchell, "and it ensures the local ranching community can rely on clean groundwater for their livelihoods."

The process studied in the report would remove coal ash from the ponds and store it in a "high and dry" place away from the water table. Talen has proposed a "cap-in-place" method that would cover the ponds, but leave coal ash inside.

Northern Plains estimates the high-and-dry method would cost more than twice as much as cap-in-place over the next five decades. It also finds that the more thorough cleanup would bring in twice as much income to the Colstrip community.

Colstrip owners are legally and financially obligated to clean up the site. Mitchell noted that no one wants Colstrip to become a Superfund site, and said owners need to do what's right for the community.

"This would be a way for them to stay in the community for a greater amount of time," she explained. "The jobs that will be created with cleanup are professional, skilled and unskilled jobs, and there's a huge amount of skilled labor in Colstrip."

A previous report, also from Northern Plains Resource Council, said ponds at Colstrip, which cover roughly 800 acres, leak about 200 million gallons of contaminated water a year into the ground. The plant owners have to retire two of their four units by 2022.




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