Op-Ed: Montana Is Blessed With Vast Renewable Energy FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Jeff L. Fox for the Billings Gazette:The Bozeman Daily Chronicle recently editorialized that it’s “Time Montana realized coal’s limitations.” Similarly, The Billings Gazette recently ran editorials claiming that “Montana can’t stake its future on coal,” and Montana’s economy and energy sector must “Diversify or die, it’s our choice.”The editorials ran in response to the state’s grappling with the reality of a shrinking coal sector. Both editorial boards correctly identified that the challenges facing Montana’s coal sector extend far beyond the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” carbon regulations. Both also correctly identified that Montana’s economy is diverse, and that further diversification will help us shrug off any coming coal losses. However, neither fully captured the opportunity that renewable energy development can play in building a brighter future for Montana.Montana is blessed with one of the best wind resources in the United States, which can help power our state and large portions of the economies of Washington, Oregon and California, just like Montana’s coal currently does. Additionally, our solar energy resource is more than adequate to meet a sizable portion of our own in-state demand, if we get serious about utilizing it.People who want to invest in and help build Montana’s renewable energy future are already here, ready to bring forward the clean energy that is in demand. Reviewing the interconnection requests on NorthWestern Energy’s system reveals every utility-scale electric energy project being actively developed (more than 50 in total on NorthWestern Energy’s system) is either a wind or solar energy project. Not every project currently being developed is likely to be successful, but the fact that all are renewable is an indicator of where we are going and where we should focus our efforts.Tallying up proposed wind projects statewide reveals there are more than 2,000 megawatts of wind energy being actively developed right now in Montana. If built, 2,000 megawatts of installed wind energy would probably represent something like $3 billion in capital investment, more than 11,000 construction job years, and more than 500 permanent jobs, based on the “Employment Effects of Clean Energy Investments in Montana” report authored by energy consulting firm Synapse Energy.Two thousand megawatts is a good starting point, but we have nearly limitless low-cost wind potential in Montana that can complement the renewable resources in neighboring states. How much wind resource we develop is really up to us, but commitment to even a modest goal could provide significant economic impact to help with our energy transition.Matching coal’s economic footprint would provide support for Montana’s rural communities, pumping tax dollars, local spending, landowner payments and, most important, jobs into small towns, without disrupting their character. A wind project in every county would help keep small town schools — the lifeblood of rural Montana communities —in good health.Meanwhile, Montana is seeing our first utility-scale solar projects being developed and community solar projects taking off with rural electric cooperatives leading the way. The rooftop solar market is experiencing sustained double-digit growth in Montana and today there are already more than 50 main street Montana-based businesses involved in selling, installing and connecting rooftop solar energy systems.Finally, large pumped hydroenergy storage projects proposed for Montana could further increase the value of wind and solar energy potential.The transition to cleaner energy is happening all across the country. It can happen here, too.Nationwide the solar industry already employs more workers than the entirety of the coal industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects wind energy technicians to be the fastest growing occupation in the nation through 2024.None of this is to suggest the challenges facing coal communities aren’t real and potentially painful. Together, we all must ensure that utilities, mine operators, and politicians do right by the workers if those jobs disappear or are phased out. But, Montana also has enormous benefits to realize in the clean energy transition, if we are open to seizing the opportunities.Guest opinion: Renewables can diversify Montana’s energy economy
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