On June 10, 2015, I left Missoula, Montana headed for Billings via I-90 east. The occasion for my trip is a 28 day bike ride through central and western Montana, on which I will be accompanied by three other students and two instructors. The purpose of our almost 700 mile venture is to educate ourselves as best we can on energy and climate change in this great state properly dubbed “the last best place.”
Like most people I associate energy and climate change discussion with a swath of negative and depressing facts; the earth is warming, the sea is rising and we are only compounding the problem with an increasing population. When discussing these issues it is difficult to avoid these terrible facts. However, after just four days on the course I remain extremely optimistic. Moreover, many of the facts I have learned, and people we have spoken with have shown me that there are many reasons to permanently ditch the common hopeless outlook and replace it with my new found optimism.
The first positive facts came from a man named David Healow. The fact that men as intelligent and enthusiastic as David exist, and are focusing on renewable energy is reason enough to be optimistic about the energy situation in this great state. Though David is a doctor by trade, he has an incredible amount of time and money invested into wind energy in Montana. He has used his excess salary to personally invest into the technology. In addition to this financial contribution he has a fascination with aviation and the physics of airfoils which has allowed him to contribute to the technological advancements in small scale wind production.
We met with David on the banks of a small lake on the outskirts of Billings. As soon as he began talking it was clear that this was a man with an incredible comprehension of the world around him. He had so much knowledge in so many areas we often found ourselves needing to ask him to pause for an explanation in layman’s terms.
Once David started on the topic of wind energy and utility companies it was clear that the option for renewable energy in Montana is much greater than it would seem. However, as with all shining moments, this one came with a speed bump or catch if you will. Montana has the ability to generate an incredible amount of wind energy, enough to sell the excess to other states. However, the utility provider, Northwest Energy, and the lawmakers it lobbies with have put a cap on the amount of residential wind energy production that can be supplied to the grid. These residential producers are known as qualified facilities or Q.F.s and they are limited to a 50 megawatt hour contribution. Furthermore, it has a less than ideal policy relating to net metering. Net metering is what allows individual customers to sell power to the utility that they have generated through residential wind energy and solar panels.
To me, this is very exciting! In the past when learning about renewable energy such as wind and solar, the issue has always been collecting enough energy to replace our fossil fuels. But technology has come a long way. Industry and available financing have also made significant advancements. Now the one thing standing between renewable resources and those resources becoming available to the public is a few lawmakers in Helena and a few top dogs at North West Energy.
If I have learned anything about Montana and the people that live here in the five years since I moved here, it is that Montanans are tired of corporate greed taking advantage of this awe-inspiring landscape we all call home. This trend began with the reign of the copper kings in Butte and Anaconda and it continued for some time. However, in the 1970’s the people of this great state banded together to re-write our constitution so as to ensure this pattern would not go on. They did so by guaranteeing all citizens the right to clean water and air. This right is continually challenged by the mining and burning of coal to support our energy needs.
Once again it is our turn to band together. As residents of this state, we must educate ourselves on the renewable resources that are available. In doing so we will be able to stand up to the illogical corporate greed that is allowing the continued pollution of our air and water. Preventing this pollution will ensure clean air and water, which is our constitutional right! There are options available to us in the ways we get our energy and only we as Montanans can prevent the trends of the past from continuing in the future. Doing so will ensure that this beautiful landscape will remain intact for generations to come. To allow this beauty to continue we must stand up to our utility providers! Demand Northwest Energy to remove the 50 megawatt hour limit on qualified facilities as to allow green energy to flow through our grid and replace the archaic forms of energy generation that remain in use today.