HELENA – Utility companies and environmental groups alike Thursday spoke in favor of a proposed legislative study of Montana’s nearly eight-year-old mandate for utilities to produce renewable power, saying it’s time to evaluate its impacts on industry, consumers and the state.

Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, the sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 6, which calls for the study, said there’s been much discussion about the mandate, pro and con, since it began. A legislative study over the next 18 months can help “make a determination, one way or the other” on its effects, he said.

It will “give us a firm, good grasp on where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Olson said.

Olson presented SJR6 to the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, which took no immediate action. However, no one opposed the measure, and a dozen people testified for it.

If the Legislature approves SJR6, the study would be conducted through a legislative interim committee and the results presented to the 2015 Legislature – 10 years after the mandate was passed.

The mandate says electric utilities in Montana must get at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind power, by 2015 – as long as that power is priced competitively against other sources.

At Thursday’s hearing, utility spokesmen talked about the difficulties their companies have faced in meeting the mandate and said the study should evaluate the cost and effect of compliance.

John Alke, a Helena attorney representing Montana-Dakota Utilities, said the company has had to fight with regulators both in Montana and North Dakota over rate treatment for wind power plants built to meet the mandate and certification of small, community-based renewable power projects, which also are required by the law.

John Fitzpatrick of NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, said his company now has “so much wind on (our) system that our capacity to integrate additional wind is nonexistent,” and that it’s also had problems getting renewable power credits for some small power projects it has to buy.

Representatives of pro-renewable power groups said they would welcome the study, because it would produce reliable data on the positive aspects of renewable power development in Montana.

Kyla Maki of the Montana Environmental Information Center said the renewable power mandate has helped boost wind power development in Montana from 2 megawatts in 2005 to 600 megawatts today.

The study should look at the economic and environmental effects of the renewable power mandate, as well as the impact on utility ratepayers, she said.

“I believe Montana’s renewable energy industry has a positive story to tell,” added Jeff Fox of the Renewable Northwest Project.

The mandate, known as the renewable portfolio standard, was passed by the 2005 Legislature. Olson, then a House member, voted against it.

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(3) comments

John P Weber
John P Weber

I dont trust the MEIC or any enviromental group due to their normal unwillingness to listen to other points of view. And hydro power should be counted in the renewable mandate. It is ludicris to not do so, and if we can exceed that 15% we should. As long as the cost of power doesn't go up so much as to impact the poor and those on fixed incomes under $25,000

John P Weber
John P Weber

And i dont trust the MEIC


We would already meet the 15% renewable power MANDATE if these government idiots would let hydro power be counted. But no, we have to subsidize wind and solar out the wazoo with our tax money. We are also sitting on some of the biggest coal and gas reserves in the world, but because of the enviro whackos agendas, we can't even use these a small percentage of what we could be doing. Why won't they count Hydro power?? The government MANDATES need to stop. They are impacting our economy big time.

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