“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It’s not particularly sage advice. Most of us call it common sense.

Yet the Montana Legislature just can’t seem to keep their hands off of Montana’s Renewable Energy Standard.

The Renewable Energy Standard, passed in 2005, requires electric utilities to acquire 15 percent of their energy from new renewable resources by 2015. Both of Montana’s largest public utilities, NorthWestern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities are already meeting the overall 15 percent standard. NorthWestern Energy is primarily meeting the standard with energy from the Judith Gap Wind Farm and the new Spion Kop Wind Farm. The two projects are also the two lowest cost, long-term, fixed-price, resources on NorthWestern Energy’s system.

Since the Renewable Energy Standard was enacted, Montana has seen more than $1.6 billion of capital investment in renewable energy, the creation of 1,500 high-paying construction jobs, 100 permanent jobs, and 650 megawatts of newly installed renewable energy. Two-thirds of that new energy serves out of state customers, a Montana-made export attracted here because of our excellent wind resource and welcoming policies.

Despite these facts, the Montana Senate has already passed two bills, Senate Bill 45 and SB 31, which would weaken the Renewable Energy Standard through retroactive giveaways.

SB 45, sponsored by Senator Jim Keane from Butte, is openly designed to reach back and reward PPL Montana’s upgrade of Rainbow Dam with development incentives, even though the upgrade has already taken place. PPL has publicly valued the incentives at $200,000 per year, in perpetuity. And because the energy from the already completed project can be counted toward the Renewable Energy Standard, it may well push out the date we can expect the standard to incentivize new projects and new jobs for Montanans. This retroactive giveaway to a well-connected corporate interest is shameful.

Meanwhile SB 31, sponsored by Senator Debby Barrett from Dillon, would wipe the Renewable Energy Standard out entirely by including existing hydro facilities into the RPS. The bill would flood the standard in a wave of hydro energy, some of which was first constructed a century ago. Hydro is indeed a renewable resource, but the standard is focused on promoting new, renewable resources.

In its current form, SB 31 is essentially the same bill former Gov. Schweitzer charred in 2011 with his “veto” branding iron. The fact that the bill again passed out of committee and through the Senate is evidence that the Legislature just doesn’t get it. The Renewable Energy Standard works for Montana.

Admittedly, legislators did appear to attempt to make SB 31 only apply to new hydro projects by amendment on the Senate floor. But either by mischief or mistake the amendment failed to align the bill with the Senate’s stated desires. As written, SB 31 would completely undermine Montana’s Renewable Energy Standard.

For at least the last six years the Legislature has purported to be primarily concerned with promoting jobs and economic opportunity for Montanans. But on the issue of the Renewable Energy Standard, far too many Legislators have found themselves stuck in a dizzying spin debating the definition of “renewable” and righting perceived slights of the original standard.

Anyone that bothers to take just a pace or two back to get the bigger picture can see that the debates are madness. The Renewable Energy Standard is first and foremost an economic development act, and as an economic development tool it has been a great success for Montana.

The Renewable Energy Standard has delivered cost-effective (in fact cheap) energy for Montanans. It has brought jobs and economic opportunity. And it has put us on a path toward future growth. On the whole, there is nothing to fix in Montana’s Renewable Energy Standard, and the Legislature should greet any plan to do so with great skepticism.

Jeff L. Fox is the Montana Policy Manger for Renewable Northwest Project, a non-profit regional advocacy group that promotes the expansion of environmentally responsible renewable energy resources.

(3) comments


It is interesting how things work. Obama gives renewable energy companies large sums of money. Solindra for exapmple. Then he gives his buddies in California money, incentives, to purchase and install solor panels, from Solindra, for their buildings, at over market costs, because no one gave much thought as to how much less it would cost to buy the same solor panels from China, Obama did this so Solindra can show they were producing and selling solor panels and to make himself look good to the "Unkowing voter",net result, Solindra goes bankrupt, thousands out of work, the government,Obama, gets stiffed out of millions. . The wind source of energy is highly subsidized by Obama. At the same time the power companies are "mandated" to purchase that wind energy. Kinda like the Solindra deal. Obama said it was going to cost the consumers more,and I believe him. The billions that have been invested in wind power are just the tip of the "ice berg". Wind power is very expensive to operate and maintain. It won't be cheep by any standards. The low income and poor will feel the pain more than any other American, the poor are the very people that Obama says he wants to protect. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the "wind farms" when the subsidies/tax incentives are shut off by Obama or the then President due to a lack of funding? If wind and solar energy was profitable the government would not have had to spend a dime on its developement. The private investors would have invested in wind and solar if it wasn't a money sink hole. Now we have money that could have been spent on research and development of ways to burn/use fossil fuels as energy sources for now. Green renewable sources of energy need more time to be developed as an efficient and cost effective energy source. Too much regulation to much big government/politics too much money wasted,toomuch histaria,the way it is now.

Kevin O'Rourke - AWEA

Adding wind power has been shown to lower consumer cost and create economic development in rural areas. As a result, Montana voters are strong advocates of wind power, with 53% of voters listing it as one of the top two sources of energy they would encourage the state to develop, according to a recent poll by Colorado College.

Also, the Billings Gazette recently endorsed wind power stating, “When businesses harness Montana’s wind energy, private landowners, local and state governments and workers share the benefits."

That's because, as they noted, "More than a dozen wind farms scattered across Montana [...] represent $1.3 billion in capital investment, [the] creation of 1,319 construction jobs and 86 permanent jobs. Together, they paid $5.4 million in taxes in 2010. By 2018, these same wind farms will be paying $8.9 million in property taxes as abatements expire."

The instate growth in renewable energy development can be attributed to Montana's renewable energy standard. Altering such a successful policy would threaten the continued development of the state's abundant wind energy resources.


Sounds good Kevin, sure there has been billions invested and the expense of the tax payer, sure there have been jobs in construction that is because government is uderwriting wind farms. My electric bill has not gone down one penny in fact it went up. When/if the tax incentives stop, so goes the wind power. I speculate the current push for Wind generation will end up like bio fuels energy developement has. Wind energy sounds good but it aint cheap and I question its cost benefit ratio as an unsubsidised business.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.