Gianforte Declares Energy Emergency, and Legislature Should Act to Keep MDU and Colstrip Online


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[Big Sky Public Policy Institute] On February 12, Governor Greg Gianforte wisely declared an energy emergency. In the executive order, 2021-4, entitled, Executive Order Declaring a State of Energy Emergency and Temporarily Exempting Certain Carriers from Hours of Service Regulations Under Montana Law to Help Meet Fuel Demands, Governor Gianforte has wisely recognized the severity of our current energy problems.

The order specifies exactly what the problems are in Montana. As the order states, Montana is having harsh winter conditions, in which propane and gas delivery services must be delivered by truck. However, road conditions are making it exceedingly difficult to get that energy source where it needs to go to heat Montana homes and businesses. This, as the order states, jeopardizes the “health, well-being, and property” on Montanans.

Gianforte’s order eases restrictions of hours of service for the energy delivery infrastructure. For this, Governor Gianforte deserves much praise for adequately assessing our energy needs and recognizing the dangers we presently face to heat our homes.

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However, additional energy issues are on the horizon. Contrary to reports by Tom Lutey at the failing and bankrupt Billings Gazette, there are indeed power outages throughout Eastern Montana. While Montana-Dakota Utilities has fraudulently and deceitfully diminished reports of these blackouts (just one of their recent misdeeds toward Montana rate-payers), they cannot be denied. Rolling power outages have occurred in McCone and Garfield Counties (as their social media posts publicly announced in writing), and just across the line in western North Dakota, things are far worse and spreading westward. While Helena, our state capitol, is a long ways away from the North Dakota energy crisis, Eastern Montana – where many of our state resources and tax base reside – is in dire straights thanks to energy transfers to Texas, which is currently paying 9 thousand dollars per megawatt-hour, a 3,466% increase according to Bloomberg News (February 15).

Contrary to the Orwellian “fact-checkers” working for Big Tech who are disputing the power shortage has anything to do with Green Energy, the state’s electric grid’s chief operator has stated on-the-record and emphatically that the crisis is caused because the state is 23% reliant on windmills, which are currently frozen still (Austin-American Statesman, February 14). Former Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, also has asserted that it’s Texas’ growing reliance on renewable energy that has turned Texas dark (Houston Chronicle, February 17). While Joe Biden’s press secretary is insisting that it’s “fossil fuels that have let Texas down” (Yahoo News, February 17) reality scoffs in derision. Fossil fuels are the most reliant form of energy known to man, short of nuclear power, and don’t stop working when it gets cold.

Meanwhile, Montana’s own energy crisis is now developing. The perfect Winter storm has developed in the state thanks to a vicious cold snap, Texas’ energy drain stealing our power, and the imminent shut-downs of coal power plants in both Sidney and Colstrip.

Montana-Dakota Utilities seems intent on closing their facility and has repeatedly rebuffed efforts by Eastern Montanans and energy-conscience developers around the state and even the country, desperately trying to keep the power on. Meanwhile, the scuttling of coal by environmentalists on the West Coast has shut down much of the coal-powered plant in Colstrip.

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Montanans must realize that the interconnectedness of our power infrastructure, whether by Texas’ power-grabbers or East Coast greenies, hurts our own energy independence. And in a winter like this one (or any other), this could potentially have fatal consequences for the residents of Montana.

The State Legislature and Governor Gianforte should act immediately to put power production back up at full potential in Colstrip and also to ensure the continued viability of the MDU plant in Sidney.

As these facilities close, there’s no doubt that there will be many millions of dollars required by taxpayers and ratepayers to “mothball” or dismantle these plants. Montanans will absolutely be stuck with the bill for their demise. However, the legislature in tandem cooperation with Governor Gianforte can act immediately to invest resources in this emergency to keep the plants working and, in turn, keep Montana’s lights on.

On a federal level, the 1941 War Powers Act grants emergency powers to the federal government to maneuver factories through executive fiat to produce munitions or war supplies necessary for national security. In the last year, the War Powers Act has been resurrected to ensure that the United States can produce the resources necessary to fight the novel coronavirus, producing enough personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and pharmaceuticals.

Montana should follow this model, and use both legislative and executive power to ensure our public utilities continue to do the job they were designed to do, to keep Montana’s lights on by whatever means necessary. In doing so, the legislature and the governor will be responsible for saving hundreds of Montana jobs, saving millions of dollars, and ensuring our energy independence from a growing interconnected grid that provides us more problems than solutions.

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published at the Big Sky Public Policy Institute]


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