Last month, 350 Montana folks went to NorthWestern Energy’s public hearing on its future energy plan, a document due to the Montana Public Service Commission by the end of this year.

This is really where the rubber meets the road in battling climate change in Montana. This plan will determine whether we continue to generate power for the next 30 years by polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, or whether we will power Montana with carbon-free electrical generators.

The company provides electricity to 360,000 Montana customers and natural gas to another 180,000 Montana customers.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, there were no surprises in the company’s presentation. With the Colstrip plant scheduled for decommissioning, the company is worried about meeting peak loads. 350 Montana folks and the other 70 people in the hearing wanted NorthWestern to commit to clean energy. And we said so.

There were lots of excuses why renewable energy is not the company’s preferred option. Renewables don’t match demand. Wind is a “fill-in power.” You can only predict wind an hour in advance, and NorthWestern needs accuracy a day or two ahead. Solar only works when the sun’s out. The peak load deficit is really huge, around 500 megawatts.

As many other states are finding out, the key to renewables is storage. You generate electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, you store it, and then you release it when your customers need it. In this, Montana is different from other places, because our utility officials are planning $1.3 billion in new fossil fuel generators, and then they call storage too expensive. Leaders elsewhere see the opportunity to build the storage capacity and the smart grid they need to truly serve their customers.

Check out this article about the energy storage plans in New Jersey, California, Oregon, and Arizona. It will blow your mind:

As you can see, Montana’s 500MW “really huge” deficit is nothing compared to the kinds of storage capacities these other states are building. If NorthWestern Energy and its regulators at the Public Service Commission are willing to spend more than a billion dollars on the fossil fuels that are driving our warming temperatures, our fires, stilted crops, and dying streams, then maybe it’s time for a Plan B that meets the state’s peak-loads with aggressive conservation and innovative storage.
We should not let Montana officials say these things are impossible without a great deal of citizen pushback!