Montana ‘Powering Up’: Conference explores impact of 10-year-old renewable energy laws

Source: By Al Knauber, Independent Record • Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015

In 2005 Montana joined nearly two dozen states that created rules, regulations and policies for renewable energy.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Montana’s Renewable Power Production and Rural Economic Development Act, which is also known as the renewable portfolio standard.

A report prepared for Renewable Northwest and Montanans for Good Jobs & Clean Air by sciGaia detailed the economic benefits in the last 10 years for Montana, which is now one of 47 states to have a renewable energy portfolio standard.

A copy of the report can be found online at

Among the benefits to Montana from the renewable portfolio standards noted in a news release from Renewable Northwest are the addition of 100 new jobs a year to the state since 2005.

The market value of Montana’s wind generation properties is now $1 billion. Wind-generated electricity has gone from zero in 2005 to 6.5 percent of the power produced in the state.

Gov. Steve Bullock, who addressed the audience at a conference titled “Powering Up: Renewable Energy and its Economic Benefits for Montana” Wednesday at the Great Northern Hotel, said the economic benefit for Montana from renewable energy is exciting.

“When we look at where we’ve come from, it’s just 10 years ago that the Montana Legislature passed the renewable portfolio standard that now requires that 15 percent of the energy sold in Montana comes from renewable resources like wind, sun, even our working lands.

“In 2005, just a decade ago, we had a president of the Senate who had kind of a vision for the future of renewable energy. And he built a coalition of support around the renewable portfolio standards. That legislator was Jon Tester,” Bullock said, adding that U.S. Sen. Tester, D-Montana, would be sharing a few words at the meeting by video.

This legislation from a decade ago underscores that Montanans have been and will be innovators, Bullock continued.

“That’s what we do,” he said. “We actually try to find solutions to fix problems, and ultimately we get it done.”

One of the problems Montana needs to solve is how to create and maintain more good-paying jobs in the state’s energy economy, Bullock said, while also “keeping this big sky clean, our rivers cold, agriculture thriving, our kids healthy.”

“And we will do that through innovation, through recognizing that the only certainty is that tomorrow will look a bit different,” he said.

The state’s renewable portfolio a decade ago was innovative, Bullock said.

“The RPS standard began a journey for Montana,” he said. “We certainly do have, though, a long way to go.”

The governor said he saw his job as twofold: to protect current energy jobs and ensure the state is prepared for the next generation.

He called upon the group he characterized as innovators to “help us design those new homes and buildings that will use energy more efficient, help us invest in new technology to make all energy production and our coal power plants cleaner and more efficient, help us incentivize companies to develop new sources of renewable energy.”

“By ultimately working together, we can keep our lands more productive for farming, for ranching for generations to come. We can maintain and even improve our air and water quality without pulling the plug on jobs already in place. And when we build a stronger energy economy, we are building new jobs and opportunities,” he said.

Wind energy has been the primary contributor to compliance with the renewable portfolio standard, said Jeff Fox, Montana policy manager with Renewable Northwest.

Solar generated electricity is poised to help add to renewable sources of energy in the state, as there are some 60 megawatts proposed to NorthWestern Energy, he added.

About half of the energy generated in Montana is exported, Fox said.

Of that export, about two-thirds of the wind-generated power is exported, he said, explaining that power contracts allow tracking of sales.

The renewable portfolio standard has been particularly effective for driving economic development in rural Montana, Fox noted.

“Wind energy is already about as important to the economies of Wheatland and Toole counties as measured by tangible assets as coal and coal-fired power are in Rosebud County,” he said.