A Clean Power Plan, Designed by Montanans, is an Opportunity

We must rely on innovation, real solutions and a future that protects jobs and our kids

By Greg Jergeson

Recently, the shadowy Americans for Prosperity (AFP), funded by the Koch brothers, and best known for claiming to speak for millions (and millions and millions) of Montanans, has recently submitted guest opinion pieces to several Montana daily newspapers making wild claims about the costs to Montana consumers and our economy from a clean energy plan that has yet to even be developed. Their “sky is falling” screed claims that Montana electricity consumers will find their electricity costs rocketing to unbearable levels if Montana transitions to an energy portfolio that reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Their claims of gloom and doom are shared by a few corporate interests operating in Montana, interests content to wallow in the status quo.

As an eight-year member of the Montana Public Service Commission, six as chair, I was exposed to countless studies from many sources explaining the basis for the price of electricity consumed by the retail customer. The simplistic notions articulated by AFP that clean energy will drastically raise electric rates are based on the faulty notion that electricity from coal fired plants is always the cheapest supply available. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As a commissioner, I supported the inclusion of Colstrip 4 (coal fired generation) in NorthWestern Energy’s rate base because of representations that it would be a cost-effective power source. By the time I left the commission at the end of 2010 and to my everlasting chagrin, that one source had quickly become the second most expensive electricity resource in NorthWestern’s portfolio. The most expensive were two weirdly priced fossil fuel burning plants, Colstrip Energy Limited Partnership and Yellowstone Energy Limited Partnership.

The least expensive power in the NorthWestern portfolio? The Judith Gap wind farm with costs half that of Colstrip 4. Half! That was how the power sources lined up when I left the PSC at the end of 2010, and according to recent reports from that agency, that is still how they line up today.

While AFP cites a study from a firm I have never heard of to make their wild claims, a study by Synapse Energy Economics, a company nationally recognized for credibility, suggests that clean energy standards actually have the potential for less expensive electricity by 2030.

As a commissioner, I learned how hard it is to project energy prices very far in the future, and there’s no question the federal Clean Power Plan will pose challenges for our state. It has already prompted serious discussions about the future of energy production, the health and quality of our air, the viability of our agriculture, and how best to preserve existing jobs while creating new ones through renewable energy.

The key is, Montana has flexibility to adopt its own plan that works best for the future of our state. In the coming months, under the leadership of the Bullock administration, some of Montana’s most talented individuals across the political and economic spectrums will be brought together to design a plan that fits the nature and character of this state. All the while, we should keep in mind the thousands of Montanans whose jobs are directly threatened by unchecked climate change in the outdoor recreation industry and in Montana’s biggest industry, agriculture.

In their attempt at a pre-emptive strike on that plan to be developed by and for Montanans, Americans for Prosperity have chosen to utterly dismiss the proven capacity of Montana’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and problem solvers to come together to create reasonable solutions to common challenges.

Finally, Americans for Prosperity suggests that Montana should refuse to comply with the Clean Power Plan and should, instead, file some more federal lawsuits. More lawsuits? Holy cow! Hey, maybe that is their plan for prosperity, employing more and more armies of attorneys in a never-ending series of unproductive lawsuits.

In Montana, we shouldn’t stand for that. We must rely on innovation, real solutions and a future that protects jobs and our kids.

Greg Jergeson

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