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NorthWestern Energy Acts to Inform and Protect Customers

Nov 25, 2015 |

The electricity NorthWestern Energy provides to its Montana customers is nearly 60-percent carbon free, from the hydro system that is now dedicated to serve Montana customers, as well as from wind.  The energy NorthWestern’s system produces is already lower in carbon than the EPA Clean Power Plan’s Montana target for 2030. And, 80-percent of the energy efficiency achieved in Montana has occurred through NorthWestern Energy programs.  These are basic facts everyone should celebrate.

So, why is there so much concern about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the initiative to reduce greenhouse gases by cutting the level of carbon dioxide emissions allowed in the U.S? Together NorthWestern and our customers have proactively invested more than $1 billion in renewable energy in recent years.  The plan, as it stands now, doesn’t recognize any of those investments.

Montana’s electric energy mosaic includes other providers such as rural electric cooperatives; large industrial and commercial firms that buy their own power and have it delivered over NorthWestern’s system; coal-fired generation that is either exported or purchased by industrial Montana customers; and, a transmission system that is Montana’s energy backbone. 

NorthWestern is working diligently to understand how this complex mosaic fits together under the EPA plan, and what it might mean for our nearly 354,000 Montana electric customers. We’re also committed to working with state leaders and others to develop workable approaches for compliance.

The challenge is daunting: The draft rules, released last year, set a high bar. The rules finalized in October lowered the bar for many states, but dramatically raised the bar for Montana.  Montana has the greatest required reduction of any state in the country: 47-percent by 2030. For Montana, a “glide path” became a steep cliff.   

To develop a stronger understanding of the plan, NorthWestern asked the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research to study the possible economic impacts of the final rules. The results, including possible job and population effects and the statewide impacts to household income and business sales stemming from a possible closure of the Colstrip generating plants could represent the most significant economic event in Montana in the past 30 years, the Bureau concluded. The study doesn’t claim to represent the only scenario, but it’s certainly a scenario we need to understand.

NorthWestern has joined with a large number of utilities and labor groups from across the country to file legal action seeking to delay implementation of the plan until some of these concerns can be addressed.  If granted, the stay could allow Montana to seek changes that would allow a more workable approach to compliance including the opportunity to seek credit for recent investments.

Our actions to clearly understand the various economic and operational aspects of the plan and seek a more gradual schedule and reasonable target are in the best interest of our customers and the state of Montana.

Name calling isn’t in anyone’s interest so I encourage you to visit Reducing Emissions and read all of this information because it affects all Montanans.

Finally, as others have been shouting in the press and on social media over this subject, NorthWestern’s employees were doing their jobs; working to maintain and restore power after the big wind storm.  Then some of them headed west on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to help restore power to thousands of Avista customers in Spokane. So, while there are real disagreements over some matters, I hope we can all remember the hard work our folks do every day to keep all of us safe and warm. 

Bob Rowe is the President and CEO of NorthWestern Energy. He lives in Helena, Mont.

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