Guest Column

Tester Faces Choice on Colstrip, Montana Energy Jobs

Senator Tester is a key figure on this issue

By Duane Ankney

Hidden away deep within the massive, $3.5 trillion congressional budget package is a ticking time bomb for Montana’s economy. The innocuous sounding Clean Energy Payment Program (CEPP) is actually the left’s latest scheme to eliminate affordable, reliable fossil fuel energy. If they are successful, we’ll all pay more and at the same time the reliability of our electricity grid will be diminished. Worse, energy-producing states like Montana will pay the price in terms of lost jobs and economic output.

The CEPP is one of the most significant changes to our nation’s energy policy in decades. Yet it’s being given the bare minimum of legislative scrutiny and debate as part of a bloated, omnibus bill. Most Americans aren’t even aware that a massive restructuring of our energy supply is being contemplated by Washington.

The CEPP is aimed primarily at fully eliminating our nation’s fleet of coal-fired generators, including Colstrip. The proposal would also have drastic impacts on oil and gas development, another lynchpin of Montana’s economy.

No one knows how all of that energy would be replaced. While wind and solar can fill some part of the deficit, their obvious limitations exclude them from being used as baseload power.  

Already in the West, power regulators have been raising alarm bells about looming shortfalls in electricity supply. Thousands of megawatts of generation have been retired in recent years, far outpacing the buildout of new generation assets. We’re already seeing the impacts with rolling blackouts in California and Texas. These types of outages could become commonplace under the Democrats’ new plan.

For someone who has advocated for Montana’s energy industry for years, the situation we’re in today is truly an embarrassment. With more coal than anywhere else on Earth, Montana used to be an energy exporter. We’re now on the path to having to rely on imported electricity just to keep our lights on.

Make no mistake, relying on imported electricity exposes Montanans to an incredible amount of risk. Being at the mercy of the Western energy market means that we could see significant price spikes. We’re in competition with California, Oregon, and Washington, among other states. And we’ll be competing for a diminishing supply of resources as more generators will be forced offline. 

In Montana, agriculture and natural resources depend on low-cost dependable electricity. Under CEPP we would have neither.

A radical remaking of our energy supply also undermines our national security and international competitiveness. China continues to add to their coal fleet – they recognize that economic growth hinges on affordable, reliable power. By intentionally increasing the cost of our energy, the United States would be surrendering our competitiveness at a time when we should be aggressively challenging the Chinese.

And what does the CEPP accomplish? Not much beyond some good feelings for leftists. It’s an incredibly expensive proposal on every American citizen and would result in no discernable effect on climate change. No one wants to cheer up Greta Thunberg more than I do, but I’m not willing to destroy jobs and hurt American families to do it.

Senator Tester is a key figure on this issue. He is in a central position to prevent the CEPP from being included in the final budget package. Whether it’s included or not is a choice that is up to him. If he chooses not to do so, a Colstrip closure is squarely his fault. If he chooses not to do so, he’s responsible for thousands of jobs lost in Montana’s energy sector.

Montana sent Senator Tester to Washington to fight for us. Let’s hope he chooses to do so.

Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, is the chairman of the Montana Senate Energy Committee.  

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