Montana Energy News Roundup

During the last week, several significant energy-related events that peaked my interest occurred. Here’s a brief summary of those that I think are worth noting:

–          Northwestern Energy (NWE) formally requested a withdrawal of the Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI) Right-of-Way application from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. NWE submitted the request for right-of-way over federal lands in 2007; NWE also submitted a MSTI-related application to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a Certificate of Compliance under the Montana Major Facility Siting Act (MFSA) in 2008. As proposed by NWE, the MSTI project consisted of a 500 kV transmission line and a 50+ acre substation that would traverse 400 miles of land in Montana and Idaho. The project met intense public opposition (under full disclosure, I was part of the vocal opposition to MSTI) because of several factors including project need, project impact on rate payers, project impact on land owners, and an unnecessary additional conduit for fossil fuel energy. Although the MSTI MFSA application still stands at Montana DEQ (we are told that there is no mechanism to withdraw a MFSA application), we consider the MSTI project dead. As John Vincent, a former Montana Public Service Commissioner said in reference to NWE’s recent request for the right-of-way application withdrawal:

Finally, we can now say “We told you so” on MSTI. We can go back fully 4 years to find in our records any number of findings and statements proclaiming the lack of need for and the non-viability of the MSTI project. We knew it years before NWE did, or at least before they were willing to admit they had made a major miscalculation and mistake.

Read the NWE request letter for the right-of- way application withdrawal here: MSTI BLM NWE ROW Application Withdrawal January 6 2014

Read more on MSTI and citizen concerns here: CCM website

–          The Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council (CCRC) are challenging in court a decision by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to prevent the public from testifying on a proposed oil well permit for the Belfry, Montana, (the Beartooth Front) area last month. A lawsuit was filed on January 8, 2014 with the Montana 13th District Court in Yellowstone County (Cause No. DV-14-0027 Dept. 3). Read more on this in: NPRC lawsuit

–          The controversy over sage grouse listing on the endangered species list is heating up and potentially impacts various energy and energy-related activities. As Andrew Gulliford notes in his High Country News op-ed on “ Who Speaks for the Sage Grouse”:

Across the West, politicians and oil and gas industry spokesmen are wringing their hands, shaking their heads and saying “no” to Bureau of Land Management proposals to set aside large swaths of land for the greater sage grouse, and for federal plans to list the separate Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species.

The opposition to sage grouse ESA listing is not limited to politicians and fossil fuel industries, but also includes such diverse groups as utilities and ranchers. Other links on this topic include:

Montana Governor’s Advisory Council on Sage Grouse

BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse on public lands web page

Montana Rural Electric’s position page: REA sage grouse position

Sage Grouse Initiative: Op-ed and NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative Information: NRCS

Keeping Sage Grouse Off the ESA Listing

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Sage Grouse 

State of Montana – Establishing a Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council: Montana Sage Grouse Advisory Council

 

Power Companies Losing Out To Rooftop Solar??

by John Vincent, former Montana Public Service Commissioner

America’s utility industry, “Big Power,” is, by their own admission, scared.  Made up of large corporations with huge and profitable investments in centralized generation and long distance, high voltage transmission (profits mostly guaranteed by monopoly status and government regulation), they are facing what their own industry calls a “death spiral,” – the likelihood that the loss of demand (need) for the power they sell will put an end to “business as usual,” (the old energy paradigm).

On Rooftops, A Rival For Utilities”, a 7.28.2013 NY Times article by Diane Cardwell, details the industry death spiral, and ties the spiral into net metering and its strong appeal to potential rooftop solar users:

Net metering right now is the only way for customers to get value for their rooftop solar systems,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the advocacy group Vote Solar.

Mr. Browning and other proponents say that solar customers deserve fair payment not only for the electricity they transmit but for the value that smaller, more dispersed power generators give to utilities. Making more power closer to where it is used, advocates say, can reduce stress on the grid and make it more reliable, as well as save utilities from having to build and maintain more infrastructure and large, centralized generators.

But utility executives say that when solar customers no longer pay for electricity, they also stop paying for the grid, shifting those costs to other customers. Utilities generally make their profits by making investments in infrastructure and designing customer rates to earn that money back with a guaranteed return, set on average at about 10 percent.

“If the costs to maintain the grid are not being borne by some customers, then other customers have to bear a bigger and bigger portion,” said Steve Malnight, a vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric. “As those costs get shifted, that leads to higher and higher rates for customers who don’t take advantage of solar.”

Whether it’s on-site solar (the main focus of this article), conservation, efficiency, distributed on-site or locally distributed power from other alternative energy sources, smart grid and micro grid technology or more efficient home appliances (the new energy paradigm), “Big Power” sees the day coming when sufficient need and market demand for the power they sell will no longer exist. Of course, they will do all they can to prevent that from happening, and that fight will be coming soon to a legislature and public utility/service commission near you.

One of the huge benefits of the new energy paradigm will be the rapidly decreasing need for any new high voltage, long distance transmission lines. Every day the new energy paradigm gains strength and momentum is a day that further diminishes the need for projects like NorthWestern Energy’s MSTI line and all the environmental, financial and private property rights problems it raises.

So, whether it’s rooftop solar in California or energy efficiency programs and small scale, on-site solar, wind or micro hydro projects in Montana, it all pushes the new energy paradigm forward. And that’s a good thing.