Power Plant Politics

PPL issued a statement yesterday telling folks that they “will permanently shut down the J.E. Corette power plant in Billings” in August. It is powered by low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and it has been in operation since 1968. There are 30 full-time employees.

Back in 2012, PPL announced that the plant would be placed in a “mothball” status, but now they have discovered the cost to restart the plant would be significant, so closure is the best option.

The 2012 “mothball” announcement was an issue in the 2012 U.S. Senate race between Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg with the Rehberg camp blaming Tester and President Barack Obama for it being mothballed. Read an article about it HERE.

The goal of the Rehberg campaign was to tie Tester to Obama. That strategy failed miserably.

So here we are in 2015 and with the news of the permanent closure, the Montana GOP fired off a press release trying to blame Governor Steve Bullock (a Democrat who is up for re-election in 2016) and Obama for its closure:

The Corette power plant in Billings will be forced to shut down because of the Bullock-Obama-EPA job-killing energy regulations, which will eliminate 35 good-paying Montana jobs, result in higher energy prices, and reduce funding for our infrastructure and schools.

The Bullock administration told the Associated Press (AP):

David Parker, a spokesman for Gov. Steve Bullock, said the EPA rule does not mean Montana’s remaining coal plants will have to close, as some critics claim.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure these coal plants stay open,” Parker said.

The AP reported about the J.E. Corette power plant, saying:

The cost of a re-start stemmed primarily from the expense of new pollution controls needed to meet federal restrictions on emissions of mercury and other toxins produced by burning coal.

The AP also reported about more closures:

By the end of the decade, the mercury restrictions and competition from cheap natural gas are expected to bring the retirement of coal plants across the country that generate more than 60,000 megawatts of power, according to the Energy Information Administration.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R) issued a statement where he blamed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Obama:

“Once again, good-paying American jobs are falling ruin to the Obama administration’s war on American energy. The closing of the Corette power plant isn’t just a blow to Montana’s economy – it’s devastating news to the Montana families who rely on the plant for a stable income,” Daines stated. “The EPA’s misguided agenda doesn’t just hurt Montana’s coal industry— it directly affects thousands of Montana families, union workers and tribal members who rely on coal for good-paying jobs and reliable, affordable energy. I’ll continue fighting to stop the Obama administration’s war on coal and support the thousands of Montanans who rely on this resource every day.”

Congressman Ryan Zinke (R) followed the same theme blaming the EPA and Obama:

Today, PPL Montana announced that due to regulations implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it is being forced to permanently shut down the J.E. Corette power plant in Billings. PPL previously mothballed the plant, but due to the spike in costs to upgrade the facility as well as impending EPA regulations recommended by President Obama, keeping the 30-worker facility operating was not an option.

I think it is perfectly fine to blame the new EPA regulations on the closure, and it is fine to blame the President for supporting stronger regulations. If people remember back a few years ago, every bad thing was George W. Bush’s fault; and now it looks like we are starting to transition into every bad thing being Barack Obama’s fault.

As for trying to tie the next Democrat who is running for reelection (in this case, Bullock) to Obama – that strategy will probably fail…again.

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4 thoughts on “Power Plant Politics

  1. The AP article on the closure of the Corette plant in the Bozeman Chronicle today states that the pollution restrictions cited by PPL, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, predate Obama’s presidency and have been in the works since 1994 the result of both Democratic and Republican administrations. I think at the very least our Senator and Representative should be cognizant of that and recognize that it is in the best interest of the breathing public and not solely part of the current administration’s agenda.

  2. Nice post. No one should be surprised the Corette plant is being shut down for good. It’s technology is old, and it doesn’t make economic sense to retrofit it compared to investing in a generating plant powered by a gas turbine fueled with natural gas. I think the public understands this quite well, which is why playing politics with the closure doesn’t get much traction.

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