Renewable energy creates Montana jobs

The Billings Gazette

by Jon Tester

A recent opinion has been making the rounds in Montana newspapers, claiming that wind energy is too expensive and would somehow result in higher energy prices in our state. That's what I call junk science. You don't have to look very far to see the jobs and economic development that come with a renewable energy standard.

When I was in the Montana Senate in 2005, I passed bills creating Montana's renewable energy standard and cutting property taxes on wind energy development. A few months later, construction began on Montana's first wind farm near Judith Gap. It has produced millions of dollars in economic benefits since.

Folks in Cut Bank, Great Falls and Baker have also seen the number of jobs wind energy creates and what it does for the local tax base. Soon, folks in places like Big Timber, Shelby, Martinsdale and Chester could, too.

400 megawatts of wind

Today Montana produces nearly 400 megawatts of wind energy — up from zero just 10 years ago — and more wind farms are in the works. Why? Because wind energy is low-cost, it's easy to create and it creates jobs. We are also investing in the infrastructure needed to get our energy to the marketplace.

The Montana-Alberta Tie Line and the wind farms it will connect will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in our state, and it's creating good skilled-labor jobs.

Under Montana's renewable energy standard, NorthWestern Energy doesn't even have to buy wind power if it's more expensive than the average of their other sources. And the cost of energy from Judith Gap is far below market rates. So I won't buy any argument that wind is expensive and will drive up your power rates. Neither should you.

Of course, we still have a long way to go to address our nation's energy crisis. Cutting our dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national and economic security.

Thankfully, Montana stands to be a world leader in energy development thanks to our wind, our oil and gas, our coal, our biofuels, our geothermal and solar energy, and our cutting-edge research. I'm not going to turn my back on any of these resources. But I am going to fight like heck to make sure we're creating jobs across our energy sector — not stifling competition.

Room for renewables

Finally, some want Montanans to believe a renewable energy standard and tax credits are “subsidies.” That's more junk. They just put wind on an equal footing with traditional energy resources that continue to receive significant subsidies without a renewable energy standard even in place. Energy prices in Montana aren't going up because of wind. We have deregulation to thank for that. In fact, that bad decision by the Montana Legislature was the reason I got involved in politics more than a decade ago.

Don't believe these out-of-state claims that renewable energy is somehow bad for Montana. There's room for all energy development in Montana. And as we move forward with energy policy in Congress, I ask you to research the facts. Feel free to call my office. Just know I won't ever compromise Montana, the resources it has to offer, and the jobs we'll create across our energy sector and across our state.