Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4

Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 produce power for the Pacific Northwest. The plants face an uncertain future as coal mining and power generation are under fire.

Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

350 Montana has published two reports:

Part 1: Clean energy is Montana’s future

Montana has an incredible opportunity with the fast-approaching closure of the Colstrip Generating Station. It’s time to shift the state’s energy resources away from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels towards renewable energy. We must protect the beautiful and diverse landscapes of Montana. It makes economic sense, too. The American renewable energy economy is booming, with no indication of slowing down.

The increasing cost-competitiveness of both solar and wind energy are driving this rapid growth. Since 2008, U.S. solar installation has increased 17-fold. By the end of 2016, the U.S. had enough installed wind capacity to power 25 million American homes for an entire year.

In terms of jobs, solar and wind are dominating. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Energy and Employment Report, the solar industry employed 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation workforce, while fossil fuel jobs combined for just 22 percent. There are approximately 12.5 times as many wind workers as coal workers in the nation.

Montana has yet to take advantage of its vast clean energy resources. Our state averages 300 days of sunshine a year, and our capital, Helena, has monthly solar radiation that is 26 percent greater than the national average. Montana is ranked third in the nation for states with the greatest wind capacity. Using current technology, our wind can supply 240 times Montana’s current energy needs.

Montana risks being left behind. States are quickly shifting their energy profiles to wind, solar and hydroelectric energy. Our neighbors — Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming — are surpassing Montana’s investments in renewables.

Part 2: Who’s blocking the path to our future?

Montana’s Colstrip plants are soon to be decommissioned, and it’s time for Montana to step up to its destiny.

The good news is that we have the technology, the workers, and the money to move electrical generation to clean energy, which has never been cheaper. Few states are blessed with Montana’s wind and solar resources.

We Montanans can transform ourselves from being the West’s leader in greenhouse-gas pollution to the first state that commits to 100 percent reliance on clean energy.

With major power lines in place, Montana can build a robust economy selling our neighbors the clean energy they want.

A recent statewide poll asked the average Montanan, “As coal plants are retired by their owners, (should we) replace them with more use of renewable energy?” Seventy-four percent of us say yes! Majorities of liberals (95 percent), moderates (79 percent), and conservatives (60 percent) say yes! It’s a clear mandate.

The bad news is that moneyed interests and their politicians have hog-tied our state. Last June, not realizing he was being recorded, Missoula’s public service commissioner admitted the commission was suppressing renewable energy development.

Our monopoly utility, NorthWestern Energy, has lobbyists acting as dark forces behind the scene. One company lobbyist called solar energy “a cancer on the system.” And bills meant to reward citizen entrepreneurship and independence while also expanding solar and wind whither in Republican-controlled committees.

In one ham-fisted case, when a bill to expand clean energy, Hourse Bill 34, came up in committee, it looked like it would pass. The Republican chairman called for a recess. When called back, legislators deadlocked in a tie vote, and the bill died.

As a citizens’ organization, 350 Montana believes it’s time for a new direction. We’re deeply concerned about our megafires, drying croplands and heated streams, all indicators of climate chaos. We support Mother Nature’s call telling us it’s time to drastically curtail greenhouse gases.

We encourage people to go to our website,, and read two reports we’ve released on Montana’s energy future.

Jacqueline Sussman, Jeff Smith and Jim Parker are members of 350 Montana.

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