A Real Big Choice in the Big Sky

By Jeff Smith

There was an interesting guest editorial in The Denver Post recently that
showed what is possible when a state’s public utility works together with
citizens to encourage the great transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free
energy:

/http://threefiftymissoula.modwest.com/lists/lt.php?id=bUtQBANJVw0NSgRbAw

Everybody knows we have to make this transition soon. We’re seeing the
clear evidence that Montana can’t wait any longer, and that our regulated
utility holds one of the key to moving us quickly in the right direction.

As the article suggests, fantastic things can happen when the utility and
citizens line up in the right direction: individuals, neighborhoods, and
communities harness solar energy, reimbursement from the utility spurs new
businesses, which sprout new jobs. Citizens force the utility to remove all
the arbitrary limits meant to discourage innovation and keep the fossil
fuels burning.

In Montana, NorthWestern Energy is going the wrong way. The company wants
to cut back its reimbursement to people who install solar panels. It won’t
allow neighborhoods or communities to build solar arrays. There is a harsh
and absurd 50-megawatt limit on the size of a solar array a business or
government building can install. Instead of embracing Montana’s vast wind
and solar resources, NorthWestern Energy wants to build 13 new natural gas
generators (689 megawatts) in the next 15 years.

Ugh.

Fact is, the coal-burning plants at Colstrip — the third largest
contributor to climate pollution in the country — are being phased out in
the next few years. Its owners in Washington and Oregon no longer want to
buy electricity derived from coal.

We have an historic opportunity, a big choice in the big sky, to move to
Montana’s vast carbon-free, renewable resources. And it’s just what the
doctor ordered, as our rivers and streams choke in the heat of July and
August, our forests burn, and our two largest industries, agriculture and
tourism, feel the stresses of rapidly rising temperatures.

We’re at a fork in the road, folks. It’s time to push back, to demand our
utility support and encourage renewable energy, not build another
generation of fossil fuel generators.

You can help by marking October 10 on your calendar and joining us for a
huge rally in support of renewable energy in Butte. The rally starts at 11
a.m. in Emma Park with some music. Then there’s a march uptown to
NorthWestern Energy’s new headquarters, where we’ll hear some powerful
speakers describe what the future — a clean energy future — would look
like.

Jeff Smith, Chair, 350 Missoula

PS . . .Welcome aboard to the new folks who just signed our petition to the
public service committee about NorthWestern Energy’s cutting support for
renewable energy. Thank you! We collected more than 200 signatures at the
farmer’s market and the first friday art walk. Look for us again this
weekend and say hello. You can find more about our work at our website,
www.350montana.org