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NorthWestern Energy acts to inform and protect customers

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November 29, 2015View for printing

The electricity NorthWestern Energy provides to its Montana customers is nearly 60 percent carbon-free, from the hydro system that is now dedicated to serve Montana customers, as well as from wind. The energy NorthWestern's system produces is already lower in carbon than the EPA Clean Power Plan's Montana target for 2030. And, 80 percent of the energy efficiency achieved in Montana has occurred through NorthWestern Energy programs. These are basic facts everyone should celebrate.


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Reader Comments:

California just made history by passing legislation to increase the amount of renewable resources powering that state to 50% by 2030. So why is NorthWestern Energy?s CEO Bob Rowe lamenting that America?s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is a ?steep cliff?? It requires Montana to reduce CO2 levels from fossil fuel power generation 47% by 2030.
NorthWestern already produces ?nearly 60 percent? of its power from ?carbon free? wind and hydroelectric generators. Therefore, it shouldn?t be difficult to reduce the remaining 40% of fossil fuel generated power by half. It would only require a 20% increase in fossil fuel free electric generation over the next 15 years. Since NorthWestern recently increased the amount of wind generated electrons on its system by 15%, an additional 20% will only require 3 to 5 Judith Gap sized windfarms.
To contend otherwise, Rowe must ignore the fact that it wasn?t difficult for Californians to install 4.3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic electric generation in 2014. That?s a whole lot more than the 2.3 gigawatts of existing coal-fired generation at Colstrip. Power Plan compliance is only a ?steep cliff? for monopolies watching consumer-owned solar systems shrink their share of the energy pie. is proposing a 2016 ballot initiative requiring the power sold by investor-owned utilities to be 50% renewable by 2030 and 80% fossil fuel free by 2050. It?s doable. Uruguay, with three times more people than Montana, added wind power after 2005. Now renewable sources produce 94.5% of its electricity. It?s helped the economy there.
Rowe rightly praises the NorthWestern workforce. But NorthWestern?s resistance to change will not shield those workers from the transition to renewable energy. Why? Because, clean electricity production or requirements in California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, both Dakotas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kansas, Minnesota and 10 eastern states already exceed the 15% of renewable energy produced in Montana. Therefore, in order to export coal-fired electrons from Colstrip, Hardin, and Sidney, utilities are going to have to put many more green electrons in the mix.
Demand for coal is decreasing. LA and the State Utility of Nevada plan to be coal-free by 2025. Denver will decrease its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050. That will decrease Montana?s fossil fuel workforce. It?s why the MTCARES ballot proposal makes transitioning to clean energy easier for workers affected by decreased coal use. It provides training, pension, and enhanced unemployment benefits for those displaced workers, improving their ability to get good jobs in the wind and solar economy.
Rowe brags NorthWestern invested more than $1 billion in clean energy. Well $870 million of it was to buy-back dams that Montana consumers had already paid for before they were sold during deregulation. Instead of being sold to benefit company insiders, the dams should have been kept as depreciated, but still useful, assets providing mostly free electrons to utility consumers. The sale-buyback means Montanans now have to pay for those dams yet again, hardly something to celebrate. The transactions did not introduce any clean electrons to the generation mix that were not already being produced for a century. They just meant the utility scheme of selling property back and forth in order to inflate the rate base had just seen another round of monopoly manipulation.
The conservation Mr. Rowe celebrates? Not enough. For years we?ve urged NorthWestern to install energy efficient LEDs to halve the energy component of its street lighting bill for Montana?s communities. It wasn?t difficult for LA to install 140,000 LEDs -- saving $8.5 million a year. Apparently it?s a ?steep cliff? for NorthWestern to reduce energy used for nighttime lighting by 50%.
Russ Doty
A Montana native who is licensed to practice law here, Mr. Doty has written a book, Poles Apart, on Montana utility regulation and was an Assistant Attorney General representing the Montana Public Service Commission. He lives in Greeley, Colorado.
--Russ Doty

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