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Republican legislators pro-fossil fuel, against renewable incentives

2011-02-07T00:00:00Z Republican legislators pro-fossil fuel, against renewable incentivesBy MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
February 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

As majority Republicans at the Legislature talk up oil, gas and coal development in Montana, they’re also pursuing another energy agenda: Torpedoing the state’s incentives for conservation and renewable power.

Bills to restrict new energy-efficient building codes, undermine “net metering” for small-scale renewable power plants and limit the use of tiered utility rates to encourage conservation are advancing through the Senate.

A Republican lawmaker also has proposed repealing both the state’s mandate for utilities to develop renewable power, such as wind, solar or geothermal and tax break for power lines that transmit “green” energy.

Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge and the sponsor of some of these measures, says they merely ensure that renewable-power and conservation incentives won’t create undue or unfair costs for consumers or other energy users.

“Most of the bills I’m sponsoring are focused on making sure that we look at both the costs and the benefits of renewables (and conservation),” he says. “If we’re going to create jobs, we need low-cost energy.”

Supporters of renewable-power and conservation incentives — including Gov. Brian Schweitzer — say the move to undermine them is not only illogical but hypocritical.

For while Republicans say it’s unfair and costly for the government to encourage alternative power, they seem fine with subsidies, tax breaks and government spending that help oil, coal and other fossil fuels, says Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“They don’t mind incentives for big corporations, but if you talk about incentives for consumers or small businesses, they seem to be opposed to those,” she says. “This Legislature is not interested in encouraging renewables or helping consumers lower their bill through increased conservation.”

Schweitzer, a self-professed booster of all types of energy development in Montana, including renewable power, also says killing conservation and renewable-power incentives will cost jobs, by discouraging development in these areas.

When asked whether he’d veto the measures, Schweitzer said they sound like bills that wouldn’t create jobs, and “I’d probably take a dim view of something like that.”

“This action is irrational,” he continued. “(All energy development) creates jobs. … If the Flat Earth Society in the Montana Legislature continues to try to chase business away from Montana, it’s going to have a devastating effect all across Montana.”

Several of Priest’s bills have either passed the Senate or moved to the Senate floor, on party-line votes with Republicans in favor.

Senate Bill 159 says new energy-efficient building codes can be adopted only if it’s shown the conservation measures save enough money to cover their cost in five years. SB226 would impose additional costs on the several hundred electric customers with net-metering.

These customers usually have a small windmill or other power-generator and feed power into the utility’s system, for which they receive credit on their electric bill.

Priest says energy-efficient codes shouldn’t increase the cost of housing without a proven payback, and that the real cost of net-metering shouldn’t be borne by other customers.

He also says those who say they want to limit electricity consumption are really saying they want to limit economic growth.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, is sponsoring House Bill 244, which would repeal the 2005 state law requiring utilities to provide at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015. He also has HB353, which would abolish 2007 tax breaks for any new power line that carries mostly “green” energy, such as wind.

Skees says most projects being funded to meet the mandate are wind power, and that wind power is not really “green,” because it requires additional gas-fired and other power to balance it on the utility’s system.

He also says wind power can’t survive in the marketplace without subsidies and mandates.

“If it was just the private sector (building it), it would never be built,” Skees says. “In my view, we should have an even playing field for all (energy). We should eliminate all incentives and let the market reign.”

Skees’ HB244 awaits action the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee; his other bill is scheduled for hearing today in the same committee.

Democrats who support renewable-power laws bristle at the claim that subsidies and mandates give wind or other alternative sources an unfair edge.

Rep. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, says if consumers had to pay the “real” cost of gasoline or coal, such as their environmental impacts or defense costs to protect international oil shipping lanes, those types of energy would be much more expensive.

“Who’s paying for the (naval) destroyers in the Persian Gulf?” he says. “How can the marketplace really be free and fair, if the consumers are blind to the cost?”

Phillips says he wants to increase Montana’s requirements for renewable power, but acknowledges that proposal has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Hedges says Priest’s proposed changes for the net-metering and building-code programs will make them unworkable.

“These people are not looking out for the little guy,” she says of Republicans. “They are only looking out for the power industry of the past. They are trying to make everyone dependent on fossil fuel instead of becoming independent of it.

“It is a different direction than the rest of the world is going. It’s like, wow, would you please climb out of the 1960s?”

Priest says he thinks Montana needs a diverse energy supply, but that a different approach is needed. He also plans to introduce a bill that will create a new type of incentive for renewable power, by offering awards to private entrepreneurs who develop marketable green-energy ideas.

“Politicians are very bad at picking winners and losers,” he said. “Industrial policy hasn’t worked. And it hasn’t worked for green energy.”

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. 1955pirate
    Report Abuse
    1955pirate - February 07, 2011 8:33 pm
    Yes, we need alternatives to fossil fuel. We are too dependent on foreign sources that are, at best, marginally secure. But, in seeking other forms of "fuel" we cannot destroy the economy in the process or price the average consumer out of his house. As far as saying conservation (using less fossil fuels) will lower your bills, that will not happen. Everywhere you have seen less fossil fuel (gasoline in particular)consumed the price has gone up. This is not a simple Conservative vs. Liberal issue. Get the politics out of it....both sides simply do everything they can to feather their own nests.
  2. Purple
    Report Abuse
    Purple - February 07, 2011 6:59 pm
    Darkness said: "Until nuclear power is put back on the table you will not find a workable alternative in the near future. All indicators are that electricity is seen as the green energy. Electric cars being one example. Until you have a way to provide electricity for that utopia you are not really moving toward energy idependance.As for the military angle, they need fossile fuel to power their equipment. The Navy has gone nuke for ships, but I've yet to see a nucler powered war plane. Being dependant on foreign oil for national security always has been foolish."

    Way back when, the air force experimented with nuclear power for aircraft by using a B-36 as the test aircraft. It was found that the weight penalty for containment wasn't worth the cost.

    We wouldn't be so dependent upon foreign oil if the environmentalist, with the support of dems and libs, hadn't curtailed drilling for oil on U.S. soil and off short.

    While obama has restricted off shore drilling, a chinese oil company is busy doing slant drilling on Cuban soil into the vast untapped oil reserve below the gulf of mexico.

    Nuclear is a good way to go, but again environmentalist have shut that down too.
  3. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - February 07, 2011 1:18 pm
    Oh come on folks, Democrat/Republican...what's the difference on this issue? The technology has been around for over 50 years, in that time either party has been "in power" and yet here we are in the same boat as before with both parties pointing fingers at each other as to WHY we don't have alternate energies when in fact we do.

    It's about basic economics or simply put...costs. Supply and demand tend to drive costs up or down, and they really haven't developed green technology to where its affordable to the average consumer. Example, how many of us are going to buy a "green" car when it costs about $32K (new Chevy Volt)when a "non-green" car costs $15K? And I'm willing to be just based off construction that insurance costs are probably higher then for the average car. Then lets talk savings, this car touts an average $1.50 per day in electricity for normal (in town) driving. That's $45 a month not to mention that this also has a gas engine (meaning some gas will be bought). Get a good gas mileage car and that's about what one pays in gas so where's the savings?

    By large, the real green technology would be in Fuel Cell. You know, developed during the 60's for space travel and utilizes an unlimited power source known as Hydrogen? But my "theory" behind all of this is oil companies buying out patents for green technologies. Easier to accept $1 mil (for example) being bought out for a patent then develop it oneself.
  4. enu_22
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    enu_22 - February 07, 2011 1:17 pm
    How do you spell fossil? G-O-P
  5. joe zippy
    Report Abuse
    joe zippy - February 07, 2011 12:11 pm
    Vote them all out.
  6. Warywapiti
    Report Abuse
    Warywapiti - February 07, 2011 11:18 am
    I hear that Sen Priest also thinks that energy conservation is anti-jobs instead of just common sense practice to protect our energy and livlihood in the future. The Governor got it right when he called this group "the Flat Earth Society in the Montana Legislature." Guess that makes the senator from Red Lodge the high Priest of the Society.It must be the word "green"that evokes such disdain for renewable energy. Its as if these morons would prefer to see Earth from space as brown and black instead of blue and green.
  7. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - February 07, 2011 11:04 am
    The first few letters of both "Conservative" and "Conservation" are "conserv-". I don't understand how some politicians who CLAIM to be Conservatives can be against conservation.

    Something does not smell right.
  8. Darkness
    Report Abuse
    Darkness - February 07, 2011 11:00 am
    Until nuclear power is put back on the table you will not find a workable alternative in the near future.

    All indicators are that electricity is seen as the green energy. Electric cars being one example. Until you have a way to provide electricity for that utopia you are not really moving toward energy idependance.

    As for the military angle, they need fossile fuel to power their equipment. The Navy has gone nuke for ships, but I've yet to see a nucler powered war plane. Being dependant on foreign oil for national security always has been foolish.

  9. hiddenmuggle
    Report Abuse
    hiddenmuggle - February 07, 2011 10:56 am
    PLG said: "This is 2011, isn't it? This is what the people voted for?"

    This legislature could care less about what the people want! They care about what they want, everyone else in the state is a nuisance!
  10. PLG
    Report Abuse
    PLG - February 07, 2011 10:23 am
    This is 2011, isn't it? This is what the people voted for?
  11. daretocare
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    daretocare - February 07, 2011 8:50 am
    Typical.

    Do whatever it takes for a short term gain at the expense of the long term vitality of Montana's economy. The last best place has opportunity (and financial situation) to slowly build the best kind of economy a place can have - a place where people come to visit the only place that hasn't destroyed itself. How about some jobs for Montanan's rather than jobs that create an influx, and then outflux, of oil and gas company folks? Any approach that is not balanced is going to, in the end, be not right. This is a very imbalanced approach to doing things.
  12. tolerant
    Report Abuse
    tolerant - February 07, 2011 8:27 am

    These three paragraphs say it all for the Republican Supporters of renewable-power and conservation incentives — including Gov. Brian Schweitzer — say the move to undermine them is not only illogical but hypocritical. For while Republicans say it’s unfair and costly for the government to encourage alternative power, they seem fine with subsidies, tax breaks and government spending that help oil, coal and other fossil fuels, says Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “They don’t mind incentives for big corporations, but if you talk about incentives for consumers or small businesses, they seem to be opposed to those,” she says. “This Legislature is not interested in encouraging renewables or helping consumers lower their bill through increased conservation

  13. mtbiker
    Report Abuse
    mtbiker - February 07, 2011 8:14 am
    2010 was tied as the warmest year on record. http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110112_globalstats.html. Extreme weather events are undermining agricultural production from Russia (drought) to Australia (floods), causing food prices to skyrocket. Yet Montana's current batch of flat-earth Republican legislators continue to align themselves with the fossil fuels of the past that are responsible for the dramatic and active destruction of our atmosphere.

    If the legislators are interested supporting the lowest cost energy options, they would abandon fissil fuels. Why? Because fossil fuels are tremendously expensive. Unfortunately, market prices do not reflect this. This is because the coal and oil industries have appropriated the public atmosphere as their own private sewer. They dump carbon pollution into the air, which everyone but them pays for.

    If the government would correct this MARKET FAILURE (as any economic savvy free marketer should recognize), by making the fossil fuel industry INTERNALIZE (i.e., pay for) the carbon pollution that they are EXTERNALIZING (i.e., making the public pay for (dumping billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year), then I would say, yeah, let the market reign. But the legislature has chosen not to correct this market failure (a carbon tax would likely be the most efficient means). Instead, they choose to invent wild conspiracy theories to ignore the concensus among virtually all national academies of science. See http://www.thenation.com/article/157903/confronting-climate-cranks?page=0,1. Consequently their claims of free markets for energy are not sound. They are just echoing the lies that their big donors tell them the repeat.
  14. Limber
    Report Abuse
    Limber - February 07, 2011 6:56 am
    Good, balanced reporting, Mike! Very professional, fair and balanced! By also writing the article: "Military officers: Fossil-fuel reliance threatens US security, economy" you have done a great service to voters, helping us to see clearly what the issues are!
  15. meanogremom
    Report Abuse
    meanogremom - February 07, 2011 6:49 am
    I get that the GOP are pro-fossil fuel and I get that they are against any legislation that might require businesses to consider renewable energy. Those have been prime conservative territory for years. What I don't get is them railroading through a bill that weakens Montana's eminent domain protections for the pleasure of utility companies and at the same time championing a repeal of tax breaks for utilities that transmit power derived from renewable sources. I expect this legislature is all about passing out favors for whoever supported individual campaigns and not about what is good for the state as a whole.

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