Opinion

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Guest Column

It’s Time for a Ratepayer Rebellion

NorthWestern and the PSC have their work cut out for them to regain our trust

We are writing in response to Brad Johnson’s opinion piece regarding baseload power. As concerned Montana parents and grandparents, we don’t trust Johnson right now any more than we trust NorthWestern Energy.

Montanans rose up and defeated bills in our Legislature this year that would have sold parts of Colstrip to NorthWestern Energy for $1 and passed $75 million worth of expenses onto us ratepayers. In papers across the state, we spoke out against this legislation. Johnson was one of three Public Service commissioners to support the utility’s end-run around any oversight. He voted to make himself irrelevant.

His recent op-ed is more of the same.

Johnson didn’t mention that more than 600 Montanans submitted comments on NorthWestern Energy’s most-recent procurement plan – the fossil-fuel-heavy plan for the next 20 to 30 years. Montanans did the math. We demanded that the company move to renewables because:

• They are less expensive.

• They zero-out the greenhouse gas pollution causing global warming and threatening our future, and

• They put Montanans to work, creating hundreds of new jobs.

Like most Montanans, we are also vehemently opposed to NorthWestern’s plan in its rate negotiations to gut solar by adding “demand charges” to rooftop solar. Johnson didn’t mention this.

We’re doing our homework. The Public Service Commission is supposed to be independent and protect us from a monopoly, not parrot what NorthWestern muck-a-mucks say.

Johnson and NorthWestern Energy have it wrong about baseload power. We don’t have to be afraid of innovation.

Johnson raises the specter of brownouts due to renewable energy but cites no examples. So let’s look at other states. Florida Power and Light has announced plans to build a 409 megawatt/900 megawatt-hour battery to store solar energy. In Colorado, renewable-energy developers offered wind and solar electricity at record-low prices, far below the costs of power from coal.The Wheatridge project in Oregon will replace a coal plant with 380 megawatts of emissions-free solar and wind backed by batteries. Even Idaho Power has set a goal of going 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

It seems to us NorthWestern and the PSC have their work cut out for them to regain our trust, and the first step is to stop the fear-mongering and name-calling. What about truly listening to their ratepayers’ concerns about our future?

Winona Bateman directs Families for a Livable Future. Jeff Smith is co-chair of 350 Montana, an affiliate of the international organization 350.org.