By Deb Courson

A debate about renewable energy and its connection to jobs is on the table for the Montana Legislature.

The Senate Energy Committee held a hearing Thursday afternoon to debate increasing the “renewable energy standard” (RES), which would require utilities to buy clean, renewable energy 25 percent of the time by 2025. The current state RES is lower, but is credited with creating good-paying jobs, especially in wind-energy projects that got off the ground after the standard was put in place.

Chantel McCormick, vice president of Grasslands Renewable Energy in Bozeman, testified at the hearing.
“Currently, Montana has one of the fastest-growing wind industries in the nation. So I think this is an opportunity for this current legislation to continue that legacy of bringing new jobs to Montana.”

Opponents of the legislation, Senate Bill 332, say forcing companies to buy clean energy could boost consumer prices and cost jobs in the traditional energy-production sector. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, counters that the jobs, tax revenue and wind-tower lease payments associated with the bill can’t be overlooked:

“We came into this legislative session talking about job creation. This is a good bill. What it will do is provide potentially up to 2,000 new construction jobs (and) close to 300 long-term jobs.”

The original RES was sponsored by then-state Sen. Jon Tester in 2005. It requires 15 percent of energy be “clean and renewable” by 2015.