BUTTE – The tough agriculture economy in the early 1980s brought John Bushnell from his family’s northern Illinois farm to Montana’s Big Sky country in search of career opportunities.
“I’ve always been interested in natural resources, hiking, camping, hunting, fly fishing and Montana, with all its attributes, was perfect,” he said.
Today NorthWestern Energy’s manager of sustainability uses his three decades of experience in the energy industry to assist Montana communities with their climate objectives.
The role, new to Bushnell and to NorthWestern Energy, is an ideal fit.
“My interest in this position was generated by communities’ desire to obtain their clean energy goals and NorthWestern Energy’s desire to be responsive to customers,” he said.
Previously, he managed NorthWestern Energy’s energy supply planning; a data-created roadmap with short-term and long-term forecasts for the energy supplies needed to meet customers’ energy demands reliably and affordably.
“I started about two years ago working with Montana communities interested in opportunities that allow customers to choose to go from what is already a portfolio that is currently 70 percent clean energy to 100 percent clean energy,” Bushnell said.
NorthWestern Energy already offers customers in Montana E+ Green, a voluntary program that allows customers to buy carbon-free electricity blocks, incrementally, each month. NorthWestern Energy supports the E+ Green program with renewable energy certificates purchased from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation from resources in the northwest. Find more information at northwesternenergy.com/clean-energy/how-you-can-help/e-green.
But what are the opportunities for new resources in Montana, such as additional wind or solar generation, some asked? Bushnell is now exploring those opportunities in partnership with communities.
“Many groups are involved as initial stakeholders,” Bushnell said. “At Big Sky, that includes businesses as well as Big Sky Chamber, Big Sky Community Organization, Big Sky Resort, Big Sky Resort Tax and Big Sky Sewer and Water District. Lone Mountain Land Company and Big Sky SNO will be part of future stakeholder processes.”
Municipal governments in Bozeman, Missoula and Helena, and Missoula County, are working with a consultant and NorthWestern Energy to develop a voluntary green-power product. The premium product will include investment in a new renewable energy resource in Montana.
“We’re also looking at resource options that include a storage component such as a battery,” Bushnell said.
Program subscribers will receive credit for the energy produced by the new resource.
“We view Bozeman, Missoula and Helena as the anchor tenants for this potential new product, but ultimately we are looking to design a product that could include all customers who make that choice, right down to the residential level,” said Bushnell.
Working with customers on green-energy projects is not a path Bushnell, an economist, envisioned when he started his career. Growing up with three brothers on his family’s Midwest farm, he didn’t envision a life in Big Sky country either. Today he appreciates the unexpected.
“I always say you can find the beauty of nature anywhere you live, it’s just easier in Montana,” he said.