Public radio commentary: Peggy Beltrone discusses Renewable Energy Standard

Catch AERO’s commentary tonight on Montana Public Radio‘s Montana Evening Edition. This month Peggy Beltrone of Exergy Integrated Systems will address Montana’s Renewable Energy Standard. If you can’t tune in, listen online at MTPR.

Clean Energy Works for Montana

by Peggy Beltrone

Aired November 11, 2010 on Montana Public Radio

In the recent election season, renewable energy got kicked around like a political football. But with the campaigning finally behind us, let’s take a look at what clean energy actually does for Montana: it brings millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the state, helps stabilize energy costs, and lowers our dependence on heavily subsidized fossil fuels.

As a Cascade County Commissioner for 16 years, and now as an executive in a Montana renewable energy firm, I am well aware we need clear state policies to expand clean energy opportunities.

That is exactly what Montana’s Renewable Energy Standard has done since it became law in 2005. The Standard requires utilities (but not the rural electric co-ops) to supply 10 percent of their electricity from new renewable sources by the year 2010, and now 15 percent by 2015. Our power companies are on track to meet the standards and Montanans of all persuasions – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – have benefited.

Renewable Energy Standards work. Twenty-nine states have created a powerful market signal and good-paying jobs by adopting these standards. I don’t want to talk in the abstract; Montanans are employed in good paying jobs that did not exist before these standards.

Jim and Linda Daugherty operate Wind Turbine Tools in Lincoln. They employ eight technicians who fine tune the precision tools required to maintain wind turbines all over North America. John Bacon and eleven others maintain 90 wind turbines at the Judith Gap wind farm in Wheatland County. Judith Gap supplies much of the power NorthWestern Energy needs to meet its requirement under the Renewable Energy Standard. The project was developed in part by Big Sandy farmer Bob Quinn, and is now owned by Invenergy. In just five years the wind farm has paid out more than $28 million in royalties for landowners, tax revenue, and wages.

Invenergy officials have just announced a second development, in the Belt area, which at current tax rates will bring in half a million dollars per year to educate students, maintain roads, and enhance critical health department services in Cascade County.

The standard also helps to ensure that a portion of our power comes from smaller projects majority-owned by Montana-based businesses, individuals, tribes, and local governments. It’s largely because of this Community Renewable Energy Provision that the Turnbull Hydro facility on an irrigation canal near Fairfield will begin supplying NorthWestern customers with power next year. The project is partially-owned by Greenfields Irrigation District and Wade Jacobsen, a local rancher.

Standards outside of Montana are also driving development of wind energy and infrastructure. Greg Darkenwald of Helena is working today in north central Montana, leading a crew of about 80 skilled workers installing the Montana Alberta Tie Line, which will ship up to 600 megawatts of clean energy to markets. Three hundred Montanans will be compensated for allowing the new transmission line to cross their property.

Diane and Doug Sylling credit renewable energy standards for their jobs at Gaelectric, the Irish wind company that employs 12 Montanans from its headquarters in Great Falls.

Howard Cliver and Aaron Boles of Choteau work at Glacier wind farm, a project that employed 300 people during its construction last year.

Clean energy provides real and lasting value to Montana utility customers, too. That’s because never ending sources of energy like wind and sun provide much greater long-term price stability than finite supplies of coal, oil, and natural gas. Energy purchased from Judith Gap wind farm has been among the cheapest of the resources available to Northwestern Energy. It’s cheaper than power from Colstrip Unit 4, and cheaper than a mix of hydro and coal energy the company buys from PPL Montana[1].

And for myself, I too am working in one of those brand new clean energy jobs, pursuing the dream of bringing a new wind turbine design to life. This turbine will have a soft footprint on the landscape. It is designed to meet the needs of irrigators, businesses, schools, and local governments around the state and eventually across the country. We plan on employing hundreds of people in a factory here in Montana to build it.

We can’t take our new clean energy economy for granted. Amy Gordon and Jerrod Brown are two of the 100 students enrolled in the Missoula College of Technology’s Energy Tech program. They’re just a couple of the scores of students enrolled today in energy training programs around Montana. We must continue good state policies like the Renewable Energy Standard to cradle this industry through its infancy, so there will be jobs waiting for these students.

[1] NorthWestern Energy Rate Case Additional Issues Testimony, William Thomas, July 8, 2010, PDF pg 8. Viewed October 15, 2010.

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