Gov. Schweitzer – ‘We should compete coal, and in wind’

Wind Energy Summit – 9/26/2011 Big Sky, Montana from Outlaw Partners on Vimeo.

By Taylor Anderson Assistant Editor, explorebigsky.com

As the governor delivered an opening, keynote speech at the Wind Energy and Transmit Summit in Big Sky, he touched upon three things.

Montana has coal and should be competitive with coal; it has oil and gas and should compete in oil and gas production; and it has wind, and it should certainly become a national competitor in wind energy exportation.

“The amount of wind electricity they say we can produce from wind in Montana would be enough to produce all the electricity we need to run every car, light truck and SUV in America, plus 20 percent,” the governor said during opening remarks on the first day of the conference.

Schweitzer delivered his speech to hundreds of wind energy advocates, including members from the American Wind Energy Association, Northwestern Energy, the Renewable Northwest Project and others.

Montana created its first megawatt of wind electricity in 2005, the year after Schweitzer’s election to office. It was the same year the Montana Legislature passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard – a mandate that said 15 percent of the state’s consumed energy must come from renewables.

The state now produces nearly 400 MW annually, or 20 percent of the state’s total consumed electricity of 2,000 MW.

Northwestern Energy, the utilities company that services roughly two-thirds of the state with electricity, is on track to meet its mandate before deadline. Electricity cooperative companies service the remaining one-third of mostly rural Montanans with electricity, but don’t apply to the standard, according to Kyla Wiens of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

The state’s energy production has slowed since 2009, and only 11 MW have been added since then.

Projects that would add hundreds of megawatts to the state’s production sit in limbo of construction today. A main reason for the near standstill remains in transferring energy from new projects to a grid system into homes and out of state.

“Montana is an energy exporter, we always have been,” Schweitzer said. “We export our coal, we export our oil and gas, we’ve exported electricity that comes from our hydroelectric dams, and we are exporting wind energy as well.”

Gov. Schweitzer delivered his 15-minute speech to members of wind and energy groups and ultimately challenged those in attendance to lead the way in developing wind.

The state, he says, must work to create jobs in the renewable energy sector, but must not forget its abundance of traditional resources.

After wrapping up, the governor was presented a custom bolo tie from the Renewable Northwest Project for his efforts in the renewable energy sector.

He said during an exclusive interview with the Big Sky Weekly that companies like Northwest Energy won’t necessarily call it quits after reaching the renewable energy standard.

“If they won’t lead in Washington DC, then you can lead. You – the private investor – you will lead,” Schweitzer said during his speech. “In spite of the inactivity in Washington DC, we can create a new energy system in the United States.”