A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

20 April 2017 — 1815 mdt

New MT turnout spreadsheet, labor v. MEIC, K. Regier v. Sherman

New Montana voter turnout spreadsheet. You won’t find all of these data at the website of Montana’s Secretary of State. I’ve updated the absentee ballot fields, and added records for Montana’s last two statewide special elections, which were held in November, 1971, and June, 1993. The 1971 special election was the first statewide election in Montana in which 18-year-olds voted.

Labor versus the Montana Environmental Information Center. The MEIC, the Sierra Club, the Northwest Energy Coalition, and Renewable Northwest, climbed into bed with Big Energy and the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and other business and right wing interests, to oppose SB-338, Sen. Duane Ankney’s (R-Colstrip) bill to hold the owners of Colstrip responsible for the damage closing Colstrip will do to the displaced coal miners and powerplant employees and their communities. SB-338 passed the MT Senate 43–6, but was tabled in a tie vote in the MT House’s Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. On 18 April, an attempt to blast the bill from the committee failed 40–59.

The legislature’s website has not posted the Ayes and Nays on the blast vote, but the People’s Voice, an online labor blog, apparently published by the Montana AFL-CIO, has. Three Flathead legislators, Reps. Zac Perry (D-Hungry Horse), Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), and Frank Garner (R-Kalispell) voted to blast the bill from the committee.

After the blast failed, in a moment of frustration he now rues, and for which he apologized, MEIC’s executive director, Jim Jensen, inexplicably deposited an ugly comment about SB-338 and the MT AFL-CIO’s lobbyist, on the People’s Voice. Earlier, MEIC’s chief lobbyist, Anne Hedges, posted on her organizations’s blog a tendentious essay, Why Is Montana Driving Away Clean Energy Investments?

My question: what kind of understanding, formal or private and informal (and always to be denied), do the MEIC and the Sierra Club, et al, have with Talen Energy, et al? I’ll dig into this more deeply in the future, but for now be mindful that the Sierra Club has a large, powerful, chapter in the state of Washington, and has argued that a substantial amount of the electricity generated by Colstrip can be replaced by electricity generated by thousands of nonpolluting wind turbines rising from the breezy fields and pastures of eastern Montana. MEIC and the Sierra Club seem to be saying, “Talen, Puget Sound Energy, et al, shut down Colstrip, buy juice generated by Montana wind for your power hungry customers in western Washington, and we’ll oppose Sen. Ankney’s attempts to look after his constituents.”

This dispute is political poison, especially during a special election for a congressional seat that both labor and the Big Energy Greens would prefer be occupied by Democrat Rob Quist.

Were I a legislator, I would have voted for SB-338. It’s not a perfect bill, but it establishes corporate accountability — and that’s always a good thing.

Regier versus Sherman. Near the end of March, Whitefish environmentalist Roger Sherman, secretary of the Flathead chapter of the Montana Conservation Voters, wrote a short letter to the editor chiding Sen. Keith Regier (R-Whitefish) for not strongly supporting renewable energy.

Keith Regier, the senator in my district, has two bills in the state Legislature opposing solar and other alternative energy. He states and this is a direct quote, “Solar energy is fine. It should be market driven, not financed by the rate payers. Solar and wind are weak energy sources that need back up generation.” If this invalid statement were true, why are some of our largest corporations turning to solar, i.e., Target, Walmart, Apple, Costco and Kohls et. al.

By “weak energy sources” Regier means that wind and solar cannot alone replace conventional baseload power plants that convert fossil fuels, falling water, or uranium 235, into electrical energy.

Regier, perhaps irked that Gov. Bullock vetoed SB-32, and that SB-78 was tabled in committee in the MT House, wrote a long, patronizing, response, conceding he had been correctly quoted by Sherman, and closing with a magnificent promise to keep the lights on:

Coal generation at Colstrip has powered the Northwest United States since the 1970s. It has been an inexpensive and reliable source of energy. Mr. Sherman said that I should “get on board” with renewable energy. There needs to be reason, not hysteria, driving energy production. A mix of energy sources will serve us better that putting all of our eggs in one basket.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Montana had a lot of cold weather this past winter. On Jan. 5 the morning temperatures across the state were almost all below zero. Energy use was high. Utilities had to be prepared for the increased usage with large amounts of extra power to meet the demand. In the predawn darkness, when it was the coldest, no net metering unit contributed to keeping Montanans warm and safe. Mr. Sherman’s renewable world has a ways to go before it is viable. In the meantime, I will work to keep the lights on and the rates low for all Montanans.

Regier’s response — unsenatorial in tone, but let’s cut him some slack on that given the pressures and provocations that pile up as the legislative session draws to a close — is notable not for his legitimate concern for a reliable supply of electricity, but for his hostility toward, and derision of, wind and solar generated electricity. He thinks like an executive of a traditional power company such as Northwestern Energy; as a man whose vision of the future is found in the rear view mirror.

In fact, combined with fast reacting, natural gas fueled, combustion turbines, peakable hydropower, and energy storage technologies such as batteries and pumped storage, wind and solar (principally photovoltaics), can provide a reliable supply of electrical power. We now are in the initial stages of the conversion from gigawatt coal fired baseload power plants to a more diverse, and thus flexible, system of electrical generation.

The demise of SB-32 and SB-78 did provide a teachable moment, but regrettably, it appears that Sen. Regier learned nothing from it.