Congratulations to Governor Schweitzer for finally finding his cojones and vetoing two bills that would have made a sham of renewable energy in Montana. Better late than never? SB257 by Jim Keane D-Butte would have allowed already existing upgrades to hydro power projects to be counted as new renewable power toward meeting the Renewable Energy Standard (RES). Schweitzer said that “SB257 would subvert Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, actually discouraging the development of new renewable energy projects…”. The Governor also vetoed SB403 by Kelly Gebhardt, R-Roundup. This bill would have allowed energy companies to buy renewable energy and not buy the energy credits, but still count the credits. Both of these bills would have had the effect of discouraging the development of actual renewable energy sources in the state.
Too bad the Governor didn’t figure out that he had the power to veto bad bills sooner, before he signed HB207, HB208, HB343 or let HB529 became law or other bills that try to make a farce of renewable energy in Montana.
After writing yesterday’s article about the Governor signing the carbon sequestration bill, SB498, and possible effects of renewable development in Montana, I got to wondering about the real commitment of Montana to renewable power. Schweitzer wants to spend millions, maybe billions to study the feasibility of carbon sequestration. He wants to spend further millions to develop the Otter Creek coal fields and build coal-fired power plants, railroads and pipelines. Several bills passed through the legislature this year aimed a watering down environmental protections and the permitting process for coal and gas energy.
If we are this worried about permitting coal and gas energy, surely we have a good process in place for permitting renewable sources of energy? I’m sure we are spending at least an equal amount of time and money finding and developing clean energy sources for Montana. I went to the DEQ website to find just what the permitting process for a wind-power facility might look like. I found this,
“DEQ administers no permits specifically for wind plants as energy facilities. Certain other permits will be necessary, depending on the locations of the roads, turbines and power lines.” If you want to permit a wind farm, you have to seek out any and all agencies that might have rules affected by your plan. You may violate storm-water runoff rules, open-cut rules if you mine gravel, water quality rules, you find out and make sure you get the right permits from the right agencies. There is no overall guidance for wind energy.
Okay, Montana must have some group that is studying wind power right? Ah good, I found the website for the Montana Wind Working Group. They last met in January of 2008 and before that in November of 2006. Yep, they are right on the job. But, they made some cool slides. Come on guys! Senate Bill 415 back in 2005 mandates that we get to 15% renewable energy by 2015. That ain’t far off. We need to be thinking about this stuff! At least the legislature is thinking. They did what politicians always do when confronted by tough choices, change the rules. Expand the definition of renewable power, water down the standard, make “clean coal”, ease up on regulation, etc. etc.
We need to be making up rules specific to wind power. We need to consider stuff like: Roads, how many? how wide? erosion? Towers, spacing? height?, lighting? Buildings? Fences? Buried power lines? Ground water? We need specific and common sense rules. Ain’t that what permitting is supposed to do?
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