Last Friday, Yellowstone Valley Co-op filed suit against SME, the other co-ops and ECP. Below is the article at the Billings Gazette:
A family feud among Montana electrical cooperatives trying to build a power plant near Great Falls has escalated into a lawsuit.Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative of Huntley filed a lawsuit Friday against Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative or SME, which is trying to build a coal-fired electric generating facility near Great Falls. The power would be shared among five Montana electric cooperatives and the city of Great Falls.YVEC General Manager Terry Holzer said his cooperative's members have spent between $7 million to $8 million on the Highwood project had tried unsuccessfully to leave the cooperative.
"We have not been successful at being able to negotiate a settlement," Holzer said. "In addition to the added liabilities and cost exposure Southern Montana and the other systems are taking on, we feel we have to seek this action to add stability and predictability to our future."
The lawsuit said the proposed cost of the Highwood plant has doubled, from $456 million to nearly $900 million.The lawsuit filed by Billings attorney John Crist asks that YVEC's membership in Southern Montana be terminated, that there be a financial accounting of Southern Montana's activities and damages of an
undetermined amount, including punitive damages.The lawsuit also asked that the cooperative return to Yellowstone Valley power it was receiving from the Western Area Power Administration.Contracts for relatively cheap hydro-electric power from the Pacific Northwest are ending and that spurred the Montana cooperatives to try to build their own power plant.In April, SME essentially kicked Yellowstone Valley out of the project. Although SME's chief executive Tim Gregori said Yellowstone Valley knew of the vote to end its membership. The contract between the two runs 22 years.Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended one of Highwood's building permits saying that further review was needed on the power plant's impact on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's route in 1805, now declare a National Historic Landmark.
Construction on the 250-megawatt plant started in October in order to beat a November regulatory deadline set by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. However, the project has run into financial and legal troubles.Two other lawsuits against the project are pending.Tim Gregori, general manager of Southern Montana Electric G&T and its sister company Southern Montana Generation and Transmission Cooperative, said he received the lawsuit about 11:30 a.m. and had no immediate comment.
"Our attorneys are taking a look at it. We see this perhaps as a continuation of what we tried to address in April. Right now we haven't even a chance to read it," Gregori said.