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As the legislative session ground to a close, we continued to be astounded by the ongoing assault on energy efficiency, conservation and renewable resources. Using energy more efficiently and encouraging the development of renewable sources along with fossil fuels are key to securing our energy future. Energy efficiency and renewable energy should not be partisan issues, because they are just common sense — especially as energy prices and bills go up. And yet they became very partisan targets this session.

Legislation to encourage renewables and conservation has been a target. For example, attempts to increase the renewable-energy standard from 15 percent upwards were easily defeated. Rather than encourage more renewables, there were efforts to repeal the existing law (House Bill 244) and otherwise roll back incentives for investing in them (Senate Bill 105, SB109, SB225). Net metering, which helps small customers who generate electricity send some back to the grid, was also under attack. HB581, which sought to broaden the definition of customer-generators to facilitate net metering, was killed in committee. In contrast, anti-net-metering bills like SB226 got far more traction before eventually being tabled.

More than 40 homegrown Montana companies sell and install small renewable systems that can take advantage of net metering, and more than 800 new net metering systems have been installed over the last decade. We should be encouraging energy independence and the efforts of Montana small businesses and energy entrepreneurs, not adding additional costs and obstacles.

Even more disturbing and surprising was the assault on energy efficiency and conservation. Given increasing energy costs, you would think we’d be rushing to encourage and develop more ways to increase efficiency. In 2010, almost 28,000 individuals agreed and used the existing Montana conservation tax credit to make their homes or businesses more energy efficient. Their investments helped create numerous local jobs for contractors and construction workers. But instead of supporting these initiatives, this credit and others like it would be repealed by SB253, which is headed for the governor’s desk.

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Another bizarre bill, SB159, rolled the state building code back to 2009 standards and required an arbitrary five-year payback for energy saving equipment or materials. No other state with an energy code requires this; even the National Association of Home Builders recommends a 10-year payback. This bill makes it harder to utilize materials and technologies to ensure that new homes are as energy-efficient as possible, and will result in higher energy usage and costs for homeowners in the future.

The list of bad energy bills goes on, and is extensive. Unfortunately, even efficiency has become a partisan issue, based on the votes cast this session. The fact that Montana’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment was an early target is a testament to the extreme agenda brought forward by the majority party. All Democratic efforts to promote a balanced portfolio of energy options — including renewables, efficiency, and conservation along with fossil fuels — were killed in this Legislature.

It is good that not all the bad bills have made it through. It is better still that the governor may yet veto many that remain. But the assault on sensible energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable measures this session has been all too real. Montanans deserve better.

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Mary McNally of Billings represents House District 49. Her column is endorsed by 21 other Democratic House members, including Virginia Court, Carolyn Pease-Lopez, and Robyn Driscoll and Margie MacDonald, all of Billings.

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