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Expensive power plant still exists

Great Falls Tribune

Tribune Editorial Board

Whatever happened to the Highwood Generating Station?

Not much, apparently.

In 2004, the natural gas-fired power plant east of Great Falls was proposed as a coal-fired power plant, but many area residents blew a gasket over potential health effects and financial concerns. After several years of controversy, the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission co-op failed to get a loan and switched its fuel source to natural gas instead. The natural gas plant’s ribbon-cutting on Sept. 15, 2011, took place about five weeks before the co-op filed for bankruptcy protection. Oops.

The plant still exists and the bankruptcy case has been resolved, after the city of Great Falls and the co-op’s largest member both exited by paying settlements. Activist Ron Gessaman of Great Falls told the Cascade County Commission Tuesday he understands more than a handful of people still work at the Highwood plant, adding they run a fire pump to keep the plant’s air quality permit valid.

Gessaman opposed the original coal-fired plant for environmental reasons, but now he thinks the gas-fired one is outdated and should be sold for scrap before it rusts. How much the plant is worth remains to be seen. The bankruptcy settlement set up a trust which is to sell the plant and distribute proceeds to bondholders who lent money to build the plant, explained Arleen Boyd, a trustee of the Beartooth Electric co-op based in Red Lodge.

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