As you may know, our monopoly utility, NorthWestern Energy (NWE), filed an energy procurement plan last summer with Montana’s Public Service Commission (PSC). That plan gave short shrift to energy efficiency and renewable energy and committed Montana to a new $1.3 billion fossil fuel infrastructure.

350 Montana worked hard over the past six months to oppose the plan.

The PSC held hearings on the plan and released its judgement yesterday. Commissioners essentially rejected NWE’s plan to build new gas-fired power plants, finding:
  • — NWE did not properly evaluate alternatives to natural gas plants, including wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency, battery storage, and pumped hydro storage.
  • — The commission specifically agreed that NWE did not properly model the costs and benefits of wind and solar, saying the utility over priced wind and solar and did not accurately evaluate the amount of energy these sources can provide (capacity value).
  • — The utility did not adequately consider how energy efficiency could be used to help meet peak demand instead of building gas peaker plants.
  • — The utility has not yet figured out how to optimally integrate the hydro facilities they bought in 2014 with the generation resources they already owned and have since acquired. Without this, we do not have a reliable baseline number for NWE’s true future energy needs.
  • — The commission essentially told NorthWestern to go back to the drawing board and gave the company until December 2018 to come up with a new long-term resource plan. They gave NWE specific instructions to make that process much more transparent and have broader participation. From now on, NWE must engage in “a rigorous stakeholder process.”

This is a big victory for the climate and proof that public participation works.

Thanks to the folks at the Montana Environmental Information Center, especially Brian Fadie, and to everyone in our network who kept up with the story, spoke out privately and publicly, sat down with Bob Rowe, went to Butte on a workday for the demonstration, wrote letters, or signed the petition. (We love you.)


Jeff Smith, co-chair, 350 Montana