Governor says “incredible potential” for wind energy in Montana

Source: By Michael Wright Chronicle Staff Writer, Bozeman Daily Chronicle • Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock praised the state’s potential for wind energy development at a conference in Bozeman on Wednesday, saying he hopes the industry can keep growing and help the state meet standards set by the federal Clean Power Plan, to which he gave a lukewarm welcome last month.

“These are really incredible opportunities for our state,” Bullock said. “As long as we view them as opportunities, not just obstacles to hold us back.”

He spoke at the American Wind Energy Association’s Montana State Forum, a day-long conference at Montana State University that brought together environmentalists, wind industry representatives and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency to talk about the future of wind as a renewable energy source in Montana.

The conference came a little more than a month after the EPA released its Clean Power Plan, what the Obama administration and EPA officials consider a major step in dealing with climate change.

Wind advocates see it as an opportunity for a boom in their industry, as the plan is designed to move the country toward clean energy. Bullock thinks so too.

“We have incredible potential for wind energy,” he said after his speech.

The plan sets a goal of cutting carbon emissions from power plants by about 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Each state also has specific emission reduction goals. Montana’s target asks the state to cut 47 percent of its carbon emissions.

The emission goal was a change from an earlier draft of that plan, and it caught Bullock off guard. When the plan was released in August, Bullock said in a statement that he was disappointed with the action, and that it seemed like Obama and the EPA had “moved the goal post on us.”

But Wednesday, Bullock appeared more optimistic, noting that many Montanans are already getting their energy from sources besides fossil fuels — whether it be solar, hydropower or wind.

“There’s more happening now behind the meter than ever before in our state,” Bullock said.

Also comforting is the timeline. Each state is expected to come up with a plan for meeting its goal, and states have until 2018 to do it.

“The good thing is we do have time,” Bullock said.

One of the most interesting wrinkles in the state’s plan will be how it treats the coal-fired power plants in eastern Montana, a major energy producer and the economic livelihood for those who work there. Even with the emission reductions, Bullock said coal won’t be going away, at least in the near future.

“Coal is going to be a part of our energy portfolio for years to come,” he said. “We also have an obligation to that industry as well.”

Portions of the Clean Power Plan allow states to trade carbon allowances, exceptions that will allow states to keep emitting carbon pollution. During a panel discussion earlier in the day, Montana Department of Environmental Quality director Tom Livers said his department would be “looking across the country to see where there might be some complementary relationships to open up some opportunities.”

Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, said he was happy with the governor’s speech and that he likes the approach of using both fossil fuels and renewables going forward. He said coal would be the “transition fuel” that powers the state as it figures out how to more widely distribute technologies like wind and solar power.

“Coal has to be part of the mix for the time being,” Pope said. “It’s not an ‘either or.’ It’s an ‘and and.’”

Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said she, too, was encouraged by the governor’s speech, saying it showed he understands the clean energy economy.

“I thought it was really realistic,” Hedges said. “I think he’s seeing that that is the new face of the Montana economy.”