BILLINGS — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said the Obama administration needs to spend more money to improve coal plant technologies and clear the way for more wind power if it’s serious about countering climate change.
The Obama administration wants states to cut climate-changing emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels. Its plan counts heavily on reductions from coal power plants — a major issue in coal-rich Montana.
The Democratic governor laid out his case for a Montana-friendly approach to global warming in formal comments submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA plans to finalize its rules by next summer. Bullock says Montana already has seen climate change through wildfires and low streams, but needs more flexibility to meet Obama’s goals.
Coal burned in conventional power plants emits large amounts of greenhouse gases and is considered by scientists to be one of the main drivers of climate change.
Yet development of so-called “clean-coal” technologies has been hampered by high costs, even as critics question the potential benefits.
EPA officials have said they have no plans to shut down the coal industry and have given states leeway to come up with their own plans.
But Bullock told EPA administrator Gina McCarthy that the expected closure of coal plants in the Midwest will have significant impacts in Montana. Meanwhile, the administration has “not done enough” to advance technologies that could reduce the amount of carbon from burning coal, he said.
“If this administration is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is time that it becomes equally serious about making investments in cleaner coal technology,” Bullock wrote.
Bullock also said a pending decision on whether sage grouse should be listed as an endangered species could make it more difficult to reach the 2030 goal, by hampering wind power development.
The governor this week met with the developers of proposed power storage projects in central Montana that could be used to keep the electrical grid in balance as more wind power is added.
Bozeman-based Absaroka Energy is eyeing two sites for its reservoir-based power storage projects, on Gordon Butte near Martinsdale and Coffin Butte near Two Dot.
Excess power produced by a wind farm or other source would be used to pump water uphill to a reservoir, and when the wind stops blowing, the water could be released to turn hydropower turbines to keep electricity flowing.
“If we’re going to replace coal with something, large amounts of wind are too variable,” Absaroka president Carl Borgquist said Tuesday. “But if you had a way to store (the electricity) that’s a way to make wind in Montana reliable” on a large scale.
Power storage also has broader applications, he added, to better manage electricity transmissions across the grid.
The projects need federal approval. An application for the Gordon Butte site is expected to be filed in the spring, Borgquist said. Bullock spokesman Dave Parker said it offers the type of innovative solution to electricity demands that are needed to deal with climate change.
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