Montana Electric Co-op Officials Slam “Clean Power Plan”

A panel discusses the EPA's Clean Power Plan at a townhall event at the annual Montana Electric Cooperatives Association meeting in Great Falls (photo courtesy of the Northern News Network).

Officials representing Montana electric cooperatives slammed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new “Clean Power Plan” yesterday during a townhall event at the annual Montana Electric Cooperatives Association (MECA) Meeting in Great Falls.

The event — which was broadcast live on the Voices of Montana radio program — featured several three officials from Montana electric cooperatives taking questions from the audience. The discussion focused almost exclusively on the CPP — which will force Montana to reduce the “carbon intensity” of power generation in the state by nearly 47 percent by 2030 — with both panel members and audience members expressing deep concern that the EPA mandates will make power more expensive and hamper the abilities of MECA members to serve their nearly 400,000 customers.

“Everyone in Montana is at risk of becoming collateral damage in the Obama Administration’s war on coal,” panelist Joe Lukas of the Western Montana Generating and Electric Transmission Cooperative stated.

Doug Hardy, manager of the Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative called the EPA’s required reductions for Montana a “phenomenal amount.”

Claire Vigasaa, of the Upper Missouri G&T Electric Cooperative — which supplies power to much of the Bakken oil fields in Eastern Montana and North Dakota, said that the new rules make it much more difficult for co-ops like his to grow and meet the increasing demands for electricity.

“One of our biggest challenges that we see in this plan is that there are very few small accommodations for growth,” Vigasaa said. “So this will be a problem for our power supply because we are one of those rare cases where we have such significant growth.”

Vigasaa also said that the transition from reliable sources of power, like coal, to wind would make the overall electricity market more volatile.

“We have a responsibility to keep the lights on for farmers, ranchers, industries, and communities, and we need to make sure that we have a robust system.” Vigasaa said.

The new carbon emissions regulations on power plants are being implemented under Rule 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which requires states to create performance standards for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants and then submit those plans for approval from the EPA. Under the final rule, state plans altogether would have to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

As a coal producing state state, Montana faces one of the largest required reductions in emissions of any state. Montana must reduce its total carbon output for electrical generation from 17,924,535 short tons in 2012 to 11,956,908 short tons by 2030. The amounts a 33 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power generation.

The carbon intensity of power generation in Montana — measured in pounds of carbon per megawatt hour — would be cut by the final rule from 2,481 lbs/MWh in 2012 to 1,305 lbs/MWh in 2030, a decrease of about 48 percent.

Lukas pointed out that the rule comes down hard on Montana, because much of the coal fired power generated in the state is exported to states like Washington and Oregon. However, the EPA rule only takes into account the state in which the power is generated. Montana is dinged for producing the power, but Oregon and Washington are not dinged for using the power.

“By making individual states the point of compliance, it ignores the facts about where the power is used. Most coal power in Montana is exported for use in Washington and Oregon, states with very small required reductions under the 111(d) rule,” he said.

Lukas was also critical of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposals for compliance with the rule. He noted that the “Options for Montana’s Energy Future” paper from the governor’s office would incur a $600 million cost for producers to comply with EPA plan as originally drafted last year, which was a a less severe plan than the final rule. He said it would reduce usage and sales of electricity by 17 percent in the state.

“The combination of reduced revenues and dramatic new energy efficiency spending would have a dramatic effect on co-op members, drive power bills sharply higher,” Lukas said. “This is just one of the bad options outlined by Helena.”

When asked what about one things he would have Montanans and co-op members co-op members “think about” in regards to policies surrounding power generation and distribution, Lukas essentially asked citizens to insist that co-ops have the freedom to do their jobs without constant government intervention.

“I’d think about how you can, basically, inform and put pressure on your elected officials to let the utility industry work with its customers to provide the service they need without this heavy handed government intervention,” Lukas said.