Letters: NorthWestern Energy’s carbon intensity misleads

NorthWestern Energy continues to mislead Montanans by citing its meaningless goal of reducing “…the carbon intensity of our electric generation by 90% by 2045.”

The lowering of carbon intensity was most recently touted in announcing the utility’s plan to build a 175 megawatt gas-fired electricity generation plant in Laurel, Montana (Missoulian, 4/22/21). Carbon intensity, CO2 emitted per unit of electricity produced, is a meaningless value.

What matters is not carbon intensity but the millions of tons of CO2 that NorthWestern’s fossil-fueled generators would increasingly release not only at Laurel but at other sites as the utility pursues its 2019 Electricity Resource Procurement Plan.

The only correct plan for NorthWestern is to set a goal to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation by a specific target date in the near future. The year 2045 is the target date set by law in the State of Washington. Other states have made similar legal commitments. Statements by NorthWestern about reduced carbon intensity are aimed at creating a false impression of lowered CO2 emissions. We can’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

Natural gas-fired electricity generation does have a silver lining. If NorthWestern would commit to do so, “green hydrogen” could be produced from water by renewable electricity and replace natural gas, reducing CO2 emissions to zero.

The CO2 we emit to our atmosphere stays there for 300 to 1000 years so we cannot afford to dawdle. The technology for producing green hydrogen exists but not the needed facilities and infrastructure.

We don’t need just reduced carbon intensity, we need zero carbon emissions. Montanans must find ways individually, collectively, and through our governments to facilitate NorthWestern’s adoption of a goal for 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation. Wind and solar backed by firm hydrogen-fueled electricity would achieve that goal.