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How Montana can be competitive in new energy market
Guest opinion

How Montana can be competitive in new energy market

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California just made history by passing legislation to increase the amount of renewable resources powering that state to 50 percent by 2030. So why is NorthWestern Energy’s CEO Bob Rowe lamenting (guest opinion on Nov. 24) that America’s Clean Power Plan is a “steep cliff?” It requires Montana to reduce CO2 levels from fossil fuel power generation 47 percent by 2030.

NorthWestern already produces “nearly 60 percent” of its power from “carbon free” wind and hydroelectric generators. Therefore, it shouldn’t be difficult to reduce the remaining 40 percent of fossil fuel generated power by half. It would only require a 20 percent increase in fossil-fuel-free electric generation over the next 15 years. Since NorthWestern recently increased the amount of wind generated electrons on its system by 15 percent, an additional 20 percent will only require three to five Judith Gap-sized wind farms.

To contend otherwise, Rowe must ignore the fact that it wasn’t difficult for Californians to install 4.3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic electric generation in 2014. That’s a whole lot more than the 2.3 gigawatts of existing coal-fired generation at Colstrip. Power Plan compliance is only a “steep cliff” for monopolies watching consumer-owned solar systems shrink their share of the energy pie.

Initiative proposed

An organization that I help coordinate, www.MTCARES.org, is proposing a 2016 ballot initiative requiring the power sold by investor-owned utilities to be 50 percent renewable by 2030 and 80 percent fossil fuel free by 2050. It’s doable. Uruguay, with three times more people than Montana, added wind power after 2005. Now renewable sources produce 94.5 percent of its electricity. It’s helped the economy there.

Rowe rightly praises the NorthWestern workforce. But NorthWestern’s resistance to change will not shield those workers from the transition to renewable energy. Clean electricity production or requirements in California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, both Dakotas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kansas, Minnesota and 10 Eastern states already exceed the 15 percent of renewable energy produced in Montana. Therefore, in order to export coal-fired electrons from Colstrip, Hardin and Sidney, utilities are going to have to put many more green electrons in the mix.

Carbon footprints

Demand for coal is decreasing. Los Angeles and the State Utility of Nevada plan to be coal-free by 2025. Denver will decrease its carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050. That will decrease Montana’s fossil fuel workforce. It’s why the MTCARES ballot proposal makes transitioning to clean energy easier for workers affected by decreased coal use. It provides training, pension and enhanced unemployment benefits for those displaced workers, improving their ability to get good jobs in the wind and solar economy.

The conservation Rowe celebrates? Not enough. For years we’ve urged NorthWestern to install energy efficient LEDs to halve the energy component of its street lighting bill for Montana’s communities. It wasn’t difficult for L.A. to install 140,000 LEDs — saving $8.5 million a year. Apparently it’s a “steep cliff” for NorthWestern to reduce energy used for nighttime lighting by 50 percent.

A Montana native, Russ Doty worked as an attorney representing the Montana Public Service Commission and was an unsuccessful candidate for a PSC seat. He lives in Greeley, Colo.

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