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Bozeman Daily Chronicle
by: Jeff L. Fox, Guest Columnist
June 20, 2015

Building on the first 10 years of renewable energy

Last month energy developers, construction contractors, agricultural producers, city and county officials, legislators, conservationists and more gathered to celebrate 10 years of Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard with Governor Bullock in Helena. The Renewable Portfolio Standard, or “RPS,” is the 2005 landmark legislation that launched renewable energy in Montana by requiring utilities to acquire 15 percent of their energy from new renewable energy resources like wind, solar, geothermal, and certain small hydro projects.

The standard has been a huge success. Both NorthWestern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities are in compliance with the 15 percent renewable energy requirement, and multiple studies, including the Legislature’s own study, concluded that compliance has not increased costs to consumers. Since the passage of the RPS, wind energy development in the state has supported over 100 permanent jobs and more than 1,500 construction jobs at Montana wind farms, mostly in rural communities.

Sen. Tester, who carried the state’s RPS as president of the Montana Senate in 2005, may have summed up the benefits of the RPS best in the video address he recorded for the group in-between his work in Washington, D.C.:

“These [renewable] industries aren’t just good for our air and water; they reduce the cost of energy, saving ratepayers money. Moving forward I will continue to work with Gov. Bullock and folks on both sides of the aisle to give renewable energy companies the chance to compete in today’s economy. The more we support these industries the more we will continue to create good paying jobs, increase our energy security, and protect our air and water for future generations.”

Keynoting the event, Gov. Bullock called for more innovation in order to “maintain and create more good paying jobs in Montana’s energy economy while at the same time keeping this Big Sky clean, our rivers cold, agriculture thriving and our kids healthy.”

Thankfully, renewable energy resources are doing just that. For instance, solar energy has achieved price declines of nearly 80 percent over the past five years, according to a report from the financial advisory firm Lazard’s “Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis” report. Looking ahead, most analysts expect further solar energy cost declines, perhaps as much as 40 percent cost declines over the next 4-5 years, according to the investment bank Deutsche Bank’s 2015 solar outlook report.

Wind energy is also achieving outstanding price declines, down nearly 60 percent over the past five years, according to Lazard. Looking ahead, new taller and more powerful turbines are expected to reduce the cost of wind energy even further, even while current wind technology is proving Montana wind to be competitive with natural gas generation in the region.

While the innovations are great for clean energy broadly, and Montanans should be proud to have done our part in launching the modern day renewables industry through our RPS, we won’t truly capture the benefits of the booming growth in the renewable economy unless we make sure Montana’s resources are fairly evaluated and given an equal chance to compete.

That means we need to promote fair and efficient markets that value Montana’s resources, and we need in- and out-of-state utilities and regulators to fairly evaluate Montana’s renewable energy resources. We also need both business and government partners to help solve our transmission constraints.

As the region’s largest transmission provider, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal agency, plays a particularly important role in Montana’s energy future. BPA can partner with Montana on low-cost, low-impact transmission upgrades and common sense transmission rate reforms in order to promote renewable energy development in Montana. In doing so, BPA can help Montana comply with the EPA’s pending “Clean Power Plan” carbon regulations without requiring abrupt retirements to our coal generators. Without BPA’s partnership, Montana’s compliance options narrow considerably.

We are grateful to all who have made the last 10 years of renewable energy generation a huge success for Montana. We must stay focused on our opportunities and challenges in order to ensure that the next 10 years of renewable energy in Montana are an even bigger success.

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