It’s planning time for Montana’s monopoly utility, and 350 Montana showed up with more than 100 Montanans on August 22 to give NorthWestern Energy a piece of their mind. NorthWestern’s most recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is an embarrassment. Public Service Commissioner Jennifer Fielder of District 4 presided over the meeting, which was the last of five held across the state. Dr. Annie Bukacek of District 5 was also present. In initial inquiries, PSC staff said these hearings would not be recorded or officially reviewed by all five commissioners, but Fielder assured the room that hearings were being recorded via video and notes. That doesn’t mean our comments will be part of the official record, however. Therefore it’s important to also email or send your comments to the PSC before August 28.
The hearing began with Fielder emphasizing the PSC’s decision to hold five hearings instead of the required two. Then she passed the microphone to one of NorthWestern’s public relations employees, who looked forward to the “opportunity” to hear from the crowd. Just a few commenters into the hearing, Fielder attempted to cut off an elderly commenter who had exceeded the three minute time limit. Many in the room chanted “let her finish.” The commenter refused to leave the stand and continued speaking as Fielder became visibly agitated, but after the PSC’s lawyer whispered in her ear she settled down and let the commenter finish.
Over the course of the night, not a single one of the nearly 120 commenters supported NorthWestern’s proposed IRP. The room overwhelmingly urged the PSC to send the IRP back to the drawing board. Comments ranged from specific criticisms of NorthWestern’s failure to provide transparent modeling to the company’s failure to take renewables and storage into account. We heard emotional appeals from commenters concerned about the futures of their children and grandchildren, the futures of their livelihoods as farmers and ranchers, and the futures of the natural place they love. Many reprimanded the PSC and NorthWestern for failing to take the myriad of evidence and research on the climate damage caused by greenhouse gases and fossil fuels .
Reporters were present, and we look forward to a piece on Montana Public Radio. And we hope the PSC’s assessment of this IRP is as discerning as the comments at the Missoula gathering .