The importance of a citizen intiative

During 350 Montana’s annual strategic planning session last week, we created an amibitious work plan for 2018 that features a strong pushback for those who would develop any new fossil fuels in Montana. More on that later . . .

Moving Montana with great urgency away from fossil fuel emissions is our mission. We also envision a complementary — and rapid — conversion to a 100 percent renewable system in Montana using wind, water, and solar energy.

That’s why I wanted to tell you about a citizens’ initiative on renewable energy. I-184 is trying to qualify for Montana’s November ballot. It’s already passed the Montana Secretary of State’s review. But, to qualify for the ballot, I-184 now needs signatures from five percent of 34 different Montana legislative districts by June 22. That’s thousands on thousands of signatures, and a very heavy lift.

Some Montana environmental organizations feel left out. They also think I-184 is too complex, tries to do too many things, and gets bogged down with taxes and safety issues. (It’s written by a public interest lawyer.) Some think it’s not aggressive enough — given the pace of warming temperatures and continuing carbon emissions. It’s also true that I-184’s creators don’t seem to have the money and organizational muscle to get the tens of thousands of signatures needed.

But we at 350 Montana think that the public should demand clean energy and would support clean energy, and I-184 deserves a good, hard look because it would:

  • Encourage more net-metering and community solar projects.
  • Expand the size of solar energy arrays, especially for municipal, church, or nonprofit buildings.
  • Mandate that Montana’s two major utilities, NorthWesern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities, expand their renewable energy portfolios to 80 percent by 2050.

Recent experience tells us these things won’t get done if we rely on our Public Service Commission (PSC), whose members are more interested in handicapping renewable energy. And these changes won’t get done if we continue to allow industry lobbyists and compromosed legislators to sabotage good climate policies in the Montana Legislature.

Montana’s largest utility, NorthWestern Energy, recently sought PSC authorization to go in exactly the wrong direction, promoting a “procurement plan” to charge rate-payers (you and me) $1.3 billion for a whole new generation of fracked gas plants.

So we encourage you to go to and read the full description of I-184. If you agree that action now is better than waiting, you can download materials and gather signatures to let Montanans vote to build renewable energy.

 As Bill McKibben says, winning slowly is the same thing as losing when it comes to climate change. Bold effort — action! — is what we need now to take our future back from the fossil fuel cowboys.

Jeff Smith