Urgent action - Renewables now MT!

NorthWestern Is Planning for Your Family’s Future—They’re Betting on Coal and Gas

In early March, NorthWestern Energy released its new procurement plan—the plan for how it will produce the energy it provides to Montanans for the next 20-30 years.

What Kind of Future Do You Want for Your Family?

Between now and May 5, 2019, Montanans can submit comments to NorthWestern Energy and Montana’s Public Service Commission regarding this new plan.  

This is one tangible thing you can do right now to help ensure a livable climate for your family. We need all families—you and your kids, you and your grandparents, you and your cousins, you and your dog—to take action and get involved.

Take action, make hope.


In its 2015 plan, Northwestern included 1.3 Billion dollars for gas-fired power plants, with near zero commitment to renewables.

In the new 2019 plan, NorthWestern announces it will initiate a call for proposals to find the cheapest solutions to increase capacity during peak load times, which presumably could include renewables, but within its analysis are the following red flags:

1.     NorthWestern primarily makes a case for gas-fired power, claiming that solar and wind power remain cost prohibitive (based on one regional study). The company provides no analysis of what switching to 100% renewables would look like, failing in other words to look at best practices or amazing successes underway in other states (such as Xcel Energy in Colorado and Florida Light and Power).

2.     In NorthWestern’s analysis, the risks and costs of climate change, already being assessed by our state in terms of impacts on our economy, health and safety, and quality of life, are not included (see below for these impacts).

3.     They offer no plan to promote conservation during peak load times (summer and winter) and make no estimate about the energy savings we could gain from such efforts, nor do the catalog the effective strategies of other utilities around the country who are leveraging renewables and innovative storage strategies.

4.     They do not include their customers’ preferences.

Consider these impacts of climate change on our state (provided by 350Montana.org):

  • Due to the 2017 wildfires in Montana:

    • Montana had to cut $50 million in essential services to pay its fires bills.

    • The fires reduced Montana’s tourist visitations by 400,000 visitors.

    • Montana lost $240 million in our recreational economy.

    • Meteorologists coined a new phrase, “flash draught,” to describe 2017’s normal winter and spring precipitation and then a devastating dry-out of forests and grain fields.

    • Nearly a million acres of barley in Montana’s Golden Triangle worth $240 million shriveled when the rain stopped and the 95-degree days became relentless.

  • The 2017 Montana Climate Assessment confirms that temperatures have already risen 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950 and will rise another 4.5 to 6 F by mid-century. Montana’s best scientists say we’re headed for an average increase of 12 F by the end of this century, with profound effects on sustaining our water resources, economy, food production, hydroelectric power, and natural ecosystems.

  • 2016 Montana Farmers Union study, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Montana’s Agriculture Economy,” concluded that the impact of unchecked climate change on Montana’s two primary agricultural sectors is projected to be a 20 percent decline in rangeland cattle production and a 25 percent reduction in grain production. That means losses of 25,000 jobs and $736 million in labor earnings by mid-century.

  • The 2015 Montana Wildlife Federation study, “Impact of Climate Change on the Montana Outdoor Economy,” documented a potential loss of 11,000 jobs and $281 million income due to stream closures that limit fishing, lost hunting opportunities, wildfires, and reduced snowpack for winter recreational activities if we do nothing to limit greenhouse gases.

The Future of All Families Depends on Renewables

The Montana Public Service Commission can ask for revisions in NorthWestern Energy’s Plan. They need to hear from us!

Things we want to be addressed in NorthWestern’s 2019 Plan:

1. A full analysis on the cost of switching to 100% renewables that incorporates best practices, and successes, from leaders in the energy sector.

This type of analysis was excluded from their plan based on one regional study. Energy companies across the West are providing vision and leadership for the future. For example, according to 350Montana.org:

  • Florida Power and Light plans to build a 409 megawatt (MW) / 900 megawatt-hour battery installation at what will be called the FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center to replace two natural gas plants.

  • Excel Energy in Colorado is phasing out coal and methane generators in favor of renewables and innovative storage when peak loads put extra demand on the system. (This process was partly accomplished through an RFP process.)

  • Utilities in eastern Oregon are building wind and solar farms, backed by batteries, to be on-line by 2021 for powering over 100,000 homes

  • Orion Energy, which wants to build a wind farm 60 miles from Colstrip and transport electricity over existing powerlines to power the homes for over 100,000 customers

2. An assessment and summary of the risks and costs of climate change to Montana ratepayers.

This assessment should include economic, health, and quality of life impacts, and an assessment of how much their carbon outputs are contributing.

3. NorthWestern's plan to promote energy conservation during peak loads, with an in-depth analysis of how other states are saving money by combining renewable energy and innovative storage.

4. Inclusion of results from an expanded public comment process.

Specifically, we want NorthWestern Energy to survey its Montana ratepayers about their priorities for energy in Montana. This survey should be developed by a third party (perhaps the Montana Consumer Counsel) and include input from NorthWestern Energy, ratepayers, and other stakeholders.

Be Fully Informed

Before writing your comments, we recommend you read the Executive Summary so that you are fully informed. (Or dive into the full report.)


For an in-depth perspective on NorthWestern Energy’s motivations and approach, plus a broad look at how citizens can engage, please watch the following presentation by by Brian Fadie of MEIC.

This talk was part of a program on Tuesday, December 11, sponsored by the Sierra Club, MEIC, and 350 Montana.