In the news

Environment Montana Research & Policy Center
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Missoula Current
By
Martin Kidston

While Montana’s congressional delegation hailed passage of a bill to extend the license for a hydropower dam on the Rocky Mountain Front this week, a new report suggests the state is falling behind the nation in pursuit of clean energy.

The report, released by the Montana Research and Policy Center, found that solar in the state grew less than 13 percent compared to 40 percent nationally. Wind grew less than 4 percent while the nation as a whole saw a fivefold increase.

Montana ranked 23rd for wind and 43rd for solar, the report said.

“We’re falling behind and missing huge opportunities to transition Montana’s economy to a cleaner, healthier future powered by renewable energy,” said Skye Borden with the research and policy center. “But the progress that our neighboring states have made in the last decade, especially on wind, should give Montanans confidence that we can take clean energy to the next level.”

According to the report, Montana also lags behind other states in pursuit of energy efficiency and electric cars. Montana ranked 37th among the states for its improvements in energy efficiency programs and 43rd in its number of electric cars on the road.

Roughly half of the electric cars on the road are registered in Missoula County.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho all ranked among the top 20 states in the nation for growth in wind development. All four states outproduce Montana in wind generation, the report found.

Brian Fadie, the Clean Energy Program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the report provides the state with opportunities for improvement.

“This report helpfully follows a recently completed regional energy stakeholder process hosted by Governor Bullock and the Bonneville Power Administration that cleared away obstacles to Montana’s renewable energy development,” said Fadie. “If we continue to focus our efforts on unleashing Montana’s vast renewable energy potential, we too can see the jobs and economics benefits that our neighbors are already enjoying.”

On Tuesday, Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, along with Rep. Greg Gianforte, hailed passage of a bill on the Gibson Dam Hydro Project. The measure extends the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s license for the dam for six years.

“Hydropower is critical to Montana’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy approach and is an important source of tax revenue, jobs and national security,” said Daines. “Completion of the Gibson Dam will not only power Montana homes, but will power our economy and provide Montanans with a clean, reliable source of energy.”

According to the delegation, Montana is the fifth largest producer of hydropower in the county. The Gibson Dam legislation will create up to 25 jobs and $5 million in wages during construction.

It will also reduce carbon output by more than 40,000 metric tons per year.

“Hydropower is an important part of Montana’s diverse energy resources and provides reliable, affordable electricity for Montanans,” Gianforte said. “The legislation that passed the House ensures the Gibson Dam Hydro Project can be completed, bringing good-paying Montana jobs, a healthier environment, and a reliable stream of revenue for our counties.”

Despite the Gibson project, Montana’s pursuit of clean-energy has been lackluster, advocates contend. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state in the country to set a 100 percent renewable energy requirement, and similar bills in both Massachusetts and California have cleared major hurdles this year.

At the local level, 61 American cities, led by mayors from both major parties, have committed to clean energy goals. More than 130 major companies, including Bank of America, Google and Anheuser-Busch, have committed to power their operations with 100 percent renewable energy.

“The Gibson Dam will not only produce clean, reliable energy right here in Montana, but it will also create jobs and generate revenue for the local economy,” Tester said. “With gas prices on the rise and uncertainty plaguing our international markets, there’s no better time to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by investing in domestic energy projects like the Gibson Dam.”