There’s one thing you can reliably predict about the weather in Montana: it will be extreme. Our winters are long, cold, and severe. Our summers are typically hot and dry. Keeping energy reliable and affordable during such drastic extremes requires careful planning and investment in the right infrastructure.
The times when it’s hardest to keep energy reliable and affordable are also the times when it’s most urgent—at night, in the middle of a blizzard, when the temperatures drop below freezing for days or weeks at a time. Unfortunately, our state doesn’t have enough 24/7 energy capacity right now to meet demand in those situations—and that means we often have to buy energy from other states at much higher cost.
This is not just a matter of being inconvenienced. For many Montanans, this can be a matter of life and death. And while none of us like high energy costs, the real costs can go well beyond the impact on our pocketbooks.
We need to make sure our state can supply the energy to heat our homes, keep our water pipes from freezing, and keep us safe from the weather that is taking place outside at all times, whether that’s during the middle of the hottest, driest summer day or when a blizzard hits full force in the middle of the night.
Building our energy future is like putting together a puzzle—we can’t do it with just one piece. All of us—local energy providers, consumers, environmental activists, community organizations, business groups, and our lawmakers—have pieces of the puzzle.
If we don’t put all the right pieces in place, we’ll end up with gaps that have real consequences:
Montana is a diverse state. Different people and places have different energy needs. We deserve solutions that address all of Montana’s energy needs. And, without question, we need energy sources that protect our air, land, water, and climate.
One common thing all Montanans share our reliance on energy for nearly everything we do. That’s true in our cities and out on our farms and ranches. It’s true for family farmers, factory owners, and city businesses alike.
Finding ways to keep energy reliable and affordable for everyone while also building a clean energy future is what our elected officials must work towards. It’s also what our local energy providers are legally mandated to do.
More Power to You is aimed at just that: making sure we’re all involved in figuring out the right solutions for Montana. Because when we’re talking about how to meet the energy needs of everyone in our state, it’s going to take more than one solution.
NorthWestern Energy has announced its intent to submit a proposal to the Public Service Commission to purchase a greater stake in Unit 4 of the Colstrip power plant. The deal also includes the purchase of a portion of Puget Sound Energy’s ownership of the Colstrip transmission system – a system that serves as the backbone of Montana’s power grid. It has also announced a plan to reduce the carbon intensity of its energy generation in Montana by 90% by 2045.
More Power to You strongly supports these proposals. They will not solve all of Montana’s looming energy problems, but they will help address our state’s immediate need for energy that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The energy from Colstrip Unit 4 is not dependent on the weather. It’s available on demand, regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. The energy will be there if it’s 100 degrees or -20 degrees. With the extreme weather we have in Montana, this is vitally important.
The initiatives from NorthWestern Energy recognize that our state needs to strike a balance between reliability, affordability, and sustainability. Colstrip Unit 4 provides that reliability and affordability. The commitment to reduce carbon intensity meets the need for greater long-term sustainability.
We all look forward to the day when renewable and carbon-free energy sources can keep energy reliable and affordable all day and all night. We aren’t there yet. Montana already has more carbon-free energy than most states. What we don’t have is capacity – which is energy that is available 24/7 on-demand when it is needed the most. Most Montanans are aware of the eminent closure of Colstrip Units 1 and 2. What you may not be as aware of are the planned coal plant closures in the region. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is forecasting regional capacity (24/7 on-demand energy) shortages as soon as 2021. That is serious business when it is sub—zero in Montana and the demand for electricity peaks.
Meeting the diverse energy needs of Montana is a complex puzzle. NorthWestern Energy’s purchase of more capacity through Colstrip Unit 4 will help us keep the lights and heat (or air conditioning) on right now without driving our energy rates up while we work together to figure out what the rest of the puzzle looks like. That’s vital to give all of us time to plan for our shared energy future.
We should learn from what’s happening in states like California, Hawaii and Texas—whose climates are a lot friendlier to renewable energy than ours. They have put so much emphasis on one piece of the puzzle—renewable energy—and are, as a result, seeing price increases and growing reliability challenges. We are committed to helping Montana continue its transition to more clean energy, as fast as we can, without compromising on affordability or reliability.
Colstrip is a unique opportunity to shore up our ‘round-the-clock energy supply immediately and cost-effectively. We need it—and we likely won’t see another opportunity like it in our lifetimes.