Richland County Commissioners, Sidney City Council, elected state officials and Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) representatives will be conducting a roundtable discussion Monday, July 15, at 3 p.m., at the Richland County Extention office. All parties are expecting to discuss the closure of the Lewis and Clark Station.

“At this meeting I hope we can tell the importance of trying to keep MDU open and what role we as commissioners can do working together going forward,” Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder said. “I think this meeting should of taken place sometime ago to help the public be aware of the changes that are taken place.”

MDU’s senior public relations representative Mark Hanson said he hopes the roundtable discussion will move relationships forward between the elected officials and MDU.

“We also would like to get an understanding from them what kind of steps are they considering moving forward as we transition from our retired coal plants and can Montana Dakota assist with any of that,” Hanson said. “We are looking at this meeting as the beginning of what we hope is open communication with the elected officials in the area.”

At the end of May, Richland County Commissioners and Sidney City Council each issued public statements opposing the application of Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) to increase rates for services. The statements, drafted by civil attorney Tom Halvorson, were made as both political entities and individual rate payers.

Commissioner Gorder said in May he and his fellow commissioners felt compelled to take a stance on the topic not only to raise public awareness, but because of the direct local impact.

“It’s a big thing to our county. The rates are getting increased due to a wind farm in Hettinger, North Dakota, when knowing the future plans were already addressed to close our coal fire MDU plant,” Gorder said. “We could sit back and not comment and let the rate increase take place, but I think it’s important for people to know.”

MDU recently filed a new integrate resource plan (IRP) and Hanson said some of those details will be shared at the meeting. He also emphasized the closure of the Lewis and Clark plant and rate increases were not related.

“That’s what we want to do is share some of those details and hard numbers in that plan to show here’s how we got to our decision,” Hanson said. “Within the IRP is what drives our decisions. Wind expansion is separate from this, but I understand that they didn’t feel it was fair to pay for the expansion without knowing how the [Lewis and Clark] retirement situation fits in. ”

After the discussion, elected officials and MDU reps will remain for a Q&A with the public, scheduled for 4 p.m. A barbecue at MDU’s new office location will be hosted at 5 p.m., at 1260 East Main Street in Sidney and is open to the community.

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