Politically, never the twain shall meet

By 
Brad Molnar
Thursday, January 9, 2020
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Political Potpourri

Across the nation the depth and width of our political divide worsens. Even in discussions of Montana’s energy plans neither side will focus on the issues at hand preferring to talk about tangential issues, invoking platitudes, and deriding their fellow Americans with opposing views.

Recently NorthWestern Energy (NWE) released their biannual plan to correlate projected energy needs with generation and purchase capacities. Their current concern is diminishing capacity to purchase peaking power during extremes of heat and cold. During these periods wind resources cannot be relied upon because the fronts that bring in the super cold/hot temps often leave calm air in their wake. The lowest temps are often during winter nights when solar arrays are worthless. NWE states these facts mandate procuring high capacity energy instead of variable renewable energy.

Because the plan did not include more wind and solar generation renewable energy advocates showed up to protest at NWE’s presentation to the Public Service Commission.

The day after the meeting NWE announced they were acquiring an additional 185 megawatts of coal fired energy from the Colstrip complex in a leaseback and transmission acquisition plan for all of $1. This is very similar to Senate Bill 331 debated in the last legislative session. SB331 was mis-named the “Save Colstrip” bill by a communications genius.

Public Service Commissioner Tony O’Donnell held a listening session at the Billings library concerning NWE’s energy plan. Seventy-five percent of the attendees were from the environmental community and spoke for an hour and a half. Pro-coal forces were sparse so spoke for thirty minutes. At no time did anyone slap their forehead and say, “Oh, now I see your point!”

By and large the environmentalists made emotional arguments. “I am here for my grandchildren.” “Think of the koala bears being burned in the Australian fires.” “We don’t want the whole world to burn.” “We can handle this with DSM (conservation).” And, “A future without carbon reduction is a threat to us all.”

Kathleen Seese, M.D. offered making up the shortfall with 80% renewable and 20% reliable energy as being more cost effective. Neither her term “cost effective” nor her 80/20mix was substantiated. The one “green” testifier making a great point was Brian Fadie of the Montana Environmental Information Center. Brian pointed out NWE failed to disclose the cost of the gas line to feed their proposed 800 MW rapid response gas generator. Currently, in Montana, there is not a pipeline large enough for NWE to tap into and still service existing customers. So where it will start, where it will end, how much it will cost, and where the natural gas to supply it at full capacity for the next 20 years will come from is unanswered. This is consistent with the game played by proponents Senators Duane Ankney, Tom Richmond and NWE with SB331 during the session that finally led to its 2-1 defeat.

Proponents of the plan were equally ineffective and off target. First up was a forester that explained we just had a nonevent fire season and windmills kill bats. Several pointed out they had been working in the coal generation industry for decades and just wanted to retire from same so wished the opposition would just go away.

The people from Colstrip were in favor of the addition of the 185 megawatts of coal fired power to NWE’s portfolio but never mentioned the gas generator. The environmentalists spoke strongly against the proposed coal power and the gas generation but in favor of “renewables.” I expected someone to point out that without natural gas regulation renewables do not work and without traditional, regulated energy the computers that regulate wind mills can’t function. No one mentioned that S0x from natural gas generation is 86% more potent as a green house gas than CO2 so (if you accept their theory) the more renewable energy you install the more global warming you get. Plainly, studying the subject to facilitate solutions is not something of interest to either camp of combatants.

Two days after the meeting in Billings, at the invitation of the mayor of Colstrip, Commissioner O’Donnell held a listening session on NWE’s energy procurement plan in Colstrip. Though invited, no environmentalist attended. Wisdom.

There are two words in this essay that are a tip to NWE’s real intention. Later.

Brad Molnar was a State Representative for 8 years and a Public Service Commissioner for 8 years.

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