It blows away coal

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Montana voters have spoken, and they are overwhelmingly in favor of renewable energy.

Two impartial polls, one conducted in Montana and another in six Western states, illustrate the extent to which Western voters support renewable energy development and policies. Both polls were conducted by a bipartisan team that includes Republican pollster Lori Weigel, of Public Opinion Strategies, and Democratic pollster Dave Metz, of Fairbanks, Maslin, Maulin, Metz and Associates.

The Montana poll found that three out of four Montana voters support increasing the amount of electricity we get from clean, renewable wind, solar and geothermal resources. Over 75 percent of voters support expanding and extending the state’s renewable energy standard from a 15 percent renewable energy target by 2015 to a 25 percent renewable energy target by 2025.

The poll, conducted in Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Utah, found that Western voters view renewable energy as a job creator and a way to improve their states' economic situation. An overwhelming majority of Montana voters also view renewable energy as an important part of our energy future. Eighty-six percent of respondents supported increasing the use of wind and solar energy, compared to only 32 percent that would like to see the state increase its use of coal.

It only makes sense that our state and national policies should reflect public support for renewable energy. As a Montana Public Service Commissioner, I have personally seen how strong policies can catalyze renewable energy development in Montana.

Take Montana’s renewable energy standard. Since it was enacted in 2005, renewable energy companies and utilities have brought over 300 megawatts of clean wind energy online. Just this month, the PSC approved the new 40-megawatt Spion Kop wind facility in central Montana, which puts Northwestern Energy on track to meet its 15 percent renewable energy target by 2015, while providing affordable, clean and reliable electricity for its customers. And, electricity from Spion Kop will cost less than NWE’s share of electricity from the coal-burning facility at Colstrip. In addition, the cost of electricity produced at Spion Kop is lower than the average cost of electricity available on the market since 2000.

Aligning policy with the views of the voters and expanding the renewable energy standard would lead to development of more projects like Spion Kop and would help Montana further tap into its abundant supply of wind energy. At least one study shows Montana tied for second with Kansas in wind-capacity potential.

The benefits of developing our wind and solar resources are many. Throughout the U.S., renewable industries have brought thousands of new U.S.-based manufacturing jobs, at a time when numerous other industries have shipped jobs overseas. Also, renewable energy projects delivered needed construction work and tax revenues to rural counties throughout the recession, something Americans of all walks of life can support. Plus, we can all appreciate a source of energy that never runs out, is emission-free and helps keep our water and air clean.

If you agree that wind and other renewable energy sources are good for Montana and for Montanans, please let the many candidates running for office this spring and fall know where you stand. Urge them to enact policies that expand renewable energy development and the economic and environmental benefits it brings.

Gail Gutsche

Montana Public Service Commission

Missoula

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