Sun’s coming up: Alt Energy Initiative returns

By 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
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Courtesy photo - Alternative energy has another chance to get on the ballot in Montana with the I-184 initiative coming to town.

Rus Doty, former Montana legislator, dropped by to notify the public that there is another round ongoing to submit the Initiative I-184 to the ballot. Sign up petitions are being circulated and names being taken right now. He says the last signup fell short because they started too late. This effort leaves plenty of time to meet deadlines and be on the November ballot. Support, he says, has been very good, statewide.

His current target is Red Lodge. “The key for Red Lodge as a ski and tourism destination town is we would lose about 11,000 jobs by mid-century in tourism, skiing, and the sport fishing industries in the state if we keep heating up the earth,” said Doty.

According to the Farmers Union Study, by Tom Powers, an expert used by the State as an economic consultant on power rates, “25,000 jobs will be lost by mid-century-half in farming, and half in ranching, if nothing is done to help climate change.”

Doty notes that loss of 36,000 jobs greatly exceeds the 1900 jobs in the Montana coal industry jobs –in mining, power plants and transportation and the 7,100 fossil fuel related jobs in NorthWestern Energy says Montana will lose if coal-fire electrons are eliminated.

He says the argument against alternative energy doesn’t realize we have to replace dwindling coal revenues for governments because people are supporting alternative energy. Demand is for cleaner alternatives. 

Montana is missing the economic boat he says. “MidAmerican Energy is installing 2 gigawatts of wind turbines without increasing rates for 752,000 customers in Iowa. It’ll create $1.2 billion in property tax payments and ensure Iowa will be 95 percent energy clean by 2020.” This, he says shows that there will be  more savings in installing wind than in tax payments needed to protect displaced workers and lost coal revenue. 

He says, “presently, Montana installs a very small portion of the 16 gigawatts of solar that came online in the US last year. That compares with about 4.5 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity at Colstrip. (The comparisons are not totally equal because the capacity factors are different.) However, you get the idea not often expressed in coal country, that there is a huge transition taking place elsewhere that is greatly diminishing the prospect of selling coal and coal-fired electrons. Even China which installed 2.3 times more solar power than the US last year, is closing coal mines.”

The initiative would require very gradual increases in renewable energy to reach 80 percent by 2050. Even this deadline is not secure as the earth continues to warm. But he said the easily manageable details are to increase alternative energy from 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020. Between 2020 and 2025, the increase would be 4 percent per year and between 2026 through 2040 only 2 percent per year. For the last leg, only a 1 percent increase is needed from 2041 through 2050.

The higher percentage in the early years is to take advantage of tax credits being phased out.

As far as the support for the states, he says, “I worked with Tom Towe, the author of the Coal Tax and Coal Tax Trust that now has about a billion to help finance Montana government to design the tax. Our hope is that now that clean electrons are cheaper than coal-fired electrons, the renewable industry will step up and take over funding of our schools, water projects and libraries previously partially financed with money from coal."

The plan is that about one half percent of the daily production of a wind turbine will go to around 3 percent of the daily production as we lose more coal revenue and the transition to renewables increases. That, he says, compares to the 15 percent tax on coal. “Since it is a substitute tax, the effect on consumers will be negligible. A much bigger detriment to export of electricity from Montana is the fact that the 15 percent portion of clean electrons we have in our grid is far below the portion required in more than 21 surrounding states—a portion as high as 50 percent, 80 percent, or even 95 to 100 percent.”   

For tax collection efficiency, he added the initiative “also exempts producers with projects of less than 250 kW of capacity from the tax. However, net metered systems are taxed through their grid tie association with utilities. That’s fair,” Doty says. 

“Now that clean electrons are beginning to cost less than dirty electrons, I ought not to be able to avoid my responsibility to fund schools and other government services because my solar collectors help me avoid the coal tax.”

There is a worker protection clause for any workers whose jobs are being phased out during this time with 2 full years of unemployment benefits plus an additional 20 percent of those benefits for anyone displaced in the fossil fuel industry including coal mines, power plants and railroad.   

The initiative contains no mandatory requirement that rural electric cooperatives, and municipal electric systems meet the renewable energy, net metering, or neighborhood energy facility standards. It does requires utilities to poll their members every 4 years to see if they want to comply voluntarily.

It does state that Cooperative utilities must offer members clean power at market prices. The initiative restricts new energy supply contracts, by curtailing dirty-power lock-in clauses. 

The initiative strives to protect workers and consumers by requiring safe grid interconnection of renewable projects, and construction/operation by Montana-preference labor earning prevailing-wages.

As for disbelievers Doty quotes scientist Katherine Heyhoe, one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, “The science is clear; you don’t have to believe in gravity: if you step off the cliff you’re going down.” He said 97 percent of scientists believe in Climate Change and that humans are the primary cause.  He noted that Heyhoe’s husband is an Evangelical Pastor in Texas but that doesn’t conflict with the view. 

June is the deadline, with 5 percent in each district needed and a total of 25,468 signatures. If obtained, it goes on the November ballot. If approved by voters, it becomes law.

For more information or to say you will sign the initiative or assist with sign ups see: www.mtcares.org or contact Doty at admin@mt.cares.org.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

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