HELENA - Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester has staked a good chunk of his political reputation on his support for alternative energy, like wind power. But when you hear his opponent, U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., talk energy policy these days, the two often sound the same. Burns, long seen as a reliable friend of the oil and gas industry, is touting his work on alternative energy, noting that the 2005 federal energy bill contained vital incentives to boost wind power. "We would not have the windmills going up in Montana had it not been for our work in that energy bill," says Burns. "Nothing moved until we got those (tax) credits for wind."
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Small power producer Lee Tavenner had heard plenty of talk about promoting “alternative” or “renewable” in Montana - but this week, he’s hoping the talk might translate into action. “I see a state that has gone crazy about wind power, but will not do anything with the best method to promote it,” he said. “This is a tool that can actually implement, rather than just talk, about renewable energy.” Tavenner, who installs solar-power systems and owns a small hydroelectric project near Philipsburg, is talking about an obscure set of federal and state laws that have helped launch independent, alternative-power plants across America since the early 1980s. This week, whether these laws are being enforced properly in Montana comes to a head before the Montana Public Service Commission. In a complex case that’s had scant publicity, the PSC will decide issues that could provide a boost to small wind, hydro or other renewable-power projects.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer touted the state’s economy and energy potential in speeches here and in Billings. “The economic conditions have never been better in Montana,” Schweitzer told City Club Missoula members Monday night. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our state. If you have a job to fill, you can’t find people.” But he said the prosperity doesn’t extend to eastern Montana. “In eastern Montana, the towns are getting smaller and the age of the population is getting greater and the bright kids are leaving because there are no opportunities for them,” Schweitzer said. Schweitzer then pushed his plan to develop new energy sources in eastern Montana, from the traditional such as coal, to wind power and biofuels.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- At the halfway point between the West Coast energy crisis of 2001 and the next major electricity contract renewal year of 2011, a federal power marketing agency is proposing a policy change that could affect rates in the Pacific Northwest for generations and become a national model for energy development. Northwest hydropower is one of the cheapest energy resources in the nation - about half the current market rate for electricity. The Bonneville Power Administration - which sells power in all of Washington, Oregon and Idaho and parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Montana - announced this summer that it wants to change the way it charges utilities for its wholesale power to keep rates low.
Coal gasification is promising, and wind farms are popping up or planned across the state, he said. Some wind developers think they might be able to provide a steady source of power from wind by locating wind farms all around Montana, Schweitzer said. Others think that would be impractical and say the wind farms must be supplemented by coal plants or other stable power sources.
The clean, green power from the Judith Gap Wind Farm that debuted last fall has been more intermittent than anticipated. And that is causing problems for NorthWestern Energy, the utility that must balance supply and demand on its transmission lines.