Montana co-ops warn of higher prices from grid upgrades

2012-07-18T20:04:00Z 2012-07-18T21:32:04Z Montana co-ops warn of higher prices from grid upgradesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 18, 2012 8:04 pm  • 

Rural electric cooperatives in Montana lined up against a federal plan to modernize government-owned pieces of the nation's power grid, warning of higher prices that could hurt rural economies if the changes are adopted.

The proposal from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, unveiled in March, calls for sweeping upgrades to the grid — the sprawling network of transmission lines, transformers and other components that move electricity from power plants to consumers.

Chu's stated aim is to increase efficiency, promote renewable energy and spur new jobs. First in line for potential changes is the 15-state Western Area Power Administration, with other regions of the country to follow.

Precise details have yet to be announced. But about two dozen Montana cooperative representatives called on Chu to withdraw his proposal during a Wednesday listening session in Billings, one of six scheduled to be held across the region this summer.

They said changes intended to deliver more wind and solar energy to urbanized states such as California could mean a doubling or tripling of power transmission rates in Montana.

That in turn would drive up prices for the co-ops' approximately 400,000 Montana consumers, they said.

"Any proposed changes would add costs and stress to our rural way of life," said Allen Thiessen, president of the Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Association in Sidney. "The directive from Secretary Chu seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and that problem simply does not exist."

A senior advisor to Chu, Lauren Azar, said the government intends to keep prices for consumers as low as possible. No cost estimates have been derived because the proposal is still in the early stages.

"The goal is to ensure we've got a flexible, resilient grid for the 21st century," Azar said.

Following the listening sessions, experts from the Western Area Power Administration and Energy Department will develop recommendations to be delivered to Chu sometime this fall. Chu is expected to take action on the proposal by the end of the year.

Other co-op representatives and members said higher prices could hurt agricultural communities, rural schools and businesses and residents living on limited incomes. Several described Chu's proposal as a dramatic shift in who runs the grid, with local and regional organizations at risk of losing out to centralized federal government control.

Douglas Hardy, a lobbyist with the Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association, said the organization is not anti-wind energy, but rather is concerned that local co-ops will bear an unfair share of the costs to deliver energy to out-of-state customers.

Only two speakers voiced strong support for Chu's proposal — Jeff Fox with the Renewable Northwest Project and Tom Kaiserski with the administration of Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Fox described upgrades to the grid as a necessity to keep energy clean and the transmission system reliable. He said the area served by the Western Area Power Administration already has 30,000 megawatts of wind energy — a $60 billion capital investment that benefits rural economies.

Kaiserski urged co-op representatives need to keep in mind that the Chu proposal could spur development of more wind energy projects.

The Western Area Power Administration owns more than 17,000 miles of transmission lines, spokeswoman Lisa Meiman said. But that system is showing signs of its age, with 42 percent of the lines now 50 years old or older.

Meiman said the agency is "trying to find a balance" between upgrading those parts of the grid and fulfilling the needs of its customers.

"When you're talking about aging infrastructure, there's an understanding that these (upgrades) need to happen or the power's going to go out for everyone," Meiman said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. bigskynative
    Report Abuse
    bigskynative - July 19, 2012 2:47 pm
    Regardless, new structures and new technologies need to be added to the grid. For example, redoing Fort Peck power generating plant would increase efficiency and utilizing new techinologies in the grid itself keeps electricity flowing at a decreased cost. Wind is expensive any way you look at it, but more and more will be used in the future, and the cost will decrease a bit regardless. We have to keep up with the new technology and it costs money regardless. You cannot stay in business with old technology.
  2. Crappy
    Report Abuse
    Crappy - July 19, 2012 10:24 am
    What are you rambling about!!!! LOL, holy cats!! Ask Billings if infrastructure is overrated....LOL. You do realize that if you cannot move the electricity there is no point in creating it right? Honestly, this reeks of political horse-crap, and imagine that an election year. Jus, can't believe Montana is so gullible....ah never-mind.
  3. curlin
    Report Abuse
    curlin - July 19, 2012 9:35 am
    billy banger. Your attempt at satire is sickening. Your almighty government leader, Lauren Azar, said "the government intends to keep prices for consumers as low as possible." What a refreshing statement!

    We all know Obama wants prices for energy sources like water and fossil fuels to sky rocket. That way it will make solar, wind, and bio-fuels appear to be relatively inexpensive.

    Radicals like you, billy, and BillingsCapitol will never have enough government involvement in your lives. Therefore; move to a purely socialist or communist country and leave this country alone.

  4. billy banger
    Report Abuse
    billy banger - July 19, 2012 7:47 am
    No money should be spent for infrastructure if it will cost me one cent. This is just a plot by the governement to take my money. We do not need infrastructure at all.
  5. ne-mt
    Report Abuse
    ne-mt - July 19, 2012 6:36 am
    We have to believe that the people we have running our local REC's do the best for us that they can because we can not operate without electricity anymore.
  6. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
    Report Abuse
    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - July 19, 2012 6:23 am
    Yes to upgrades. ! Ignore the endless whining of coops who always want something for nothing

  7. wxob
    Report Abuse
    wxob - July 19, 2012 1:31 am
    Does anyone remember Obama's January 2008 statement that " Under my plan...electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket " ? Based upon that, can we really believe that the DOE will work to keep customer rates low under their plan?

Comment policy

We provide this forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the day's news. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and abuse are not. You must be logged into a personal account on Facebook to comment (FAQ). Readers are responsible for their comments and abuse of this privilege will not be tolerated. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate our Terms of Service. Comments reflect the opinions of the author - not those of The Billings Gazette or its parent company.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

More from the Gazette

Town bids farewell to couple killed in Pryor shooting

Town bids farewell to couple killed in Pryor shooting

3 hours ago Photos

Photos

(1)
White deer is Musselshell County's newest tourist attraction

White deer is Musselshell County's newest tourist attraction

7 hours ago Photos

Photos

(0)

Mother, 3-year-old child die in Columbia Falls house fire

9 hours ago(0)

Canadian man dies in car accident near Plentywood

10 hours ago(0)
Stillwater group looking for help with river float and weed pull

Stillwater group looking for help with river float and weed pull

20 hours ago Photos

Photos

(0)
Bozeman entrepreneur takes on ranch restoration

Bozeman entrepreneur takes on ranch restoration

20 hours ago Photos

Photos

(1)
Crews begin dismantling J.E. Corette power plant

Crews begin dismantling J.E. Corette power plant

August 03, 2015 6:00 pm Photos

Photos

(10)
Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy protection

Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy protection

August 03, 2015 4:45 pm(8)
2 found dead after Columbia Falls-area house fire

2 found dead after Columbia Falls-area house fire

August 03, 2015 4:00 pm(0)

Washington state man dies in Montana canoeing accident

August 03, 2015 3:45 pm(0)
Yellowstone to hold public meeting on winter use plan

Yellowstone to hold public meeting on winter use plan

August 03, 2015 3:40 pm(0)

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Featured Businesses