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Climate activists blast NorthWestern Energy for reliance on fossil fuels

Posted: 10:11 PM, Sep 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-22 00:11:51-04
Missoula NWE Climate Protest

MISSOULA — More than 100 activists brought Friday’s Climate Strike to NorthWestern Energy’s Missoula office, urging the company to stop using coal, natural gas and methane to produce energy and convert to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

“We’re here to sound the alarm,” Jeff Smith, co-chair of the 350 Montana leadership team, told the crowd. “We’re here today as part of the largest nonviolent movement for change our planet has ever seen. We’re worried about our future. There are a lot of good people who work for NorthWestern Energy, and they do a lot of things right, but there’s a big difference between public relations and taking immediate, urgent action to lower greenhouse gases.”

Of particular concern to those organizing and attending the demonstration was NorthWestern’s 2019 Electricity Supply Resource Procurement Plan, currently under review by the Montana Public Service Commission.

The plan outlines Montana’s future electricity needs and how the company plans to meet those needs. In addition, NorthWestern has proposed changes that would increase costs for those using solar energy and suppress solar energy businesses.

Although NorthWestern’s resource plan acknowledges the need for more hydro, solar, wind and other “low-carbon” energy sources, it also calls for 13 new natural gas generators and continued use of coal and methane to produce electricity.

“Right now, in Montana, our portfolio is 61 percent clean energy produced from hydro, wind and solar,” said Jo Dee Black, a public relations specialist for NorthWestern in Butte. “We are absolutely committed to producing safe, reliable and affordable energy. But the transformation needs to be sustainable, and able to meet people’s needs during times of peak demands, on our hottest and coldest days.”

In its plan and other publications, NorthWestern claims that natural gas is more reliable and less expensive than other alternatives, and that renewable sources of energy — such as water, wind and solar — aren’t as reliable and affordable for the short term.

Smith, however, said the technology and ability to change is currently available, achievable and affordable, and that many of Montana’s neighboring states are already making the switch to renewable energy.

“The continued use of fossil fuels is a crime against future generations,” Smith said. “The money NorthWestern makes today from burning fossil fuels should not distract them from their moral responsibilities.”

350 Montana, which is part of an international movement called 350.org, is working to stop all new fossil fuel projects, and calls climate change an “urgent issue of social justice where short-term economic gain and retention of political power threaten the long-term well-being of all Earth’s inhabitants.”

The name 350 stand for 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has been identified by the scientific community to be the safe upper limit within the atmosphere to avoid what they call a “climate tipping point.” Currently, the level has reached 415 parts per million.

“Extreme weather is becoming the norm. The seas are rising. Species are going extinct. And more people face food insecurity every day. We need to act now,” Smith said at Friday afternoon’s rally. “NorthWestern keeps telling us what a ‘responsible’ company they are. But in a climate emergency, is it responsible to continue putting CO2 into our atmosphere?”

Those attending the demonstration were encouraged to sign a letter addressed to NorthWestern chief executive officer Bob Rowe, urging the company to join the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners in efforts to expand wind and solar energy and achieve 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2030.

The letter to Rowe states, in part: “We read headline after headline about the lengths your company will go to prevent new wind-generated power, new commercial or rooftop solar development which your lobbyist called ‘a cancer on the system,’ and any sort of modern storage capacity to save renewable power for peak loads. Your failure puts Montanans at great risk. … Stop investing in 19th century technologies like coal and get to work on 21st century solutions.”

However, NorthWestern’s Black said NorthWestern is investing in new technologies. As an example, she talked about a solar pilot project in Missoula, in cooperation with students and teachers, to test and improve the efficiency of producing and storing solar energy

“We are committed to innovation and will continue to pursue that innovation,” Black said. “and we’ll bring that innovation into the system when it’s the right time and affordable.”

Regarding Friday’s demonstration, Black said, “We are always encouraged by, and open to, input and conversations with people of diverse backgrounds, opinions and energy needs that promote productive dialogue.”