Running a utility is difficult work, but rising gas and electricity prices make paying utility bills difficult for the rest of us. That’s why it’s time for NorthWestern Energy to reflect on its missteps in the past year and make a commitment to do better in 2022. Such a commitment is important to the pocketbooks of hundreds of thousands of Montana customers as well as the environment that we all treasure.
NorthWestern Energy, Montana’s largest utility, has created a track record over the past several years that is less than desirable. The new year brings an opportunity for NorthWestern to show Montanans that it can be a utility that Montanans are proud of instead of one that is reminiscent of the copper kings. It can start by:
● Shelving the proposed Laurel methane plant. NorthWestern’s proposed methane gas plant along the Yellowstone River in Laurel is simply unaffordable. It’s also strongly opposed by the neighbors who don’t want to live next to the noise and pollution from 18 loud methane gas combustion engines.
Numerous op-eds from Laurel residents and people around the state, as well as nearly 1,000 signatures on a letter to Bob Rowe show that Montanans want something different to solve our energy needs. In 2022, NorthWestern should finally do what other utilities across the country are doing: move to more affordable and cleaner energy resources.
● Taking responsibility for the Madison River dewatering disaster. On November 30, Montanans woke up to the news of a severe dewatering of the Madison River – a critical economic and environmental asset for southwestern Montana. The cause was a major malfunction at NorthWestern’s Hebgen Lake Dam.
NorthWestern is solely responsible for making sure water flows through its dams. In 2022, NorthWestern needs to agree to an independent investigation, commit to making impacted individuals and businesses whole, and guarantee that this type of malfunction will never happen again.
● Committing to transparency, truth, and responsibility for the West Wind Fire. It appears that NorthWestern’s utility lines were the spark that caused a massive fire near Denton that destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. Montanans deserve a full and transparent account of what happened and how NorthWestern will prevent such future catastrophes. If NorthWestern’s equipment is responsible, then it needs to ensure that impacted individuals are made whole and its transmission system is operated in a safer manner in 2022.
● Stopping its never-ending attempt to buy an old, overpriced, and unreliable coal plant, and to pass all of its costs onto its Montana customers. NorthWestern has attempted — and failed — session after session to convince the legislature to make its customers purchase a greater share of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant. This makes NorthWestern a “stand-out” as the only utility in the country that is actively trying to purchase more coal-fired assets, rather than transition to cheaper clean energy options.
In 2022, NorthWestern should permanently shelve this idea, help the community and workers transition to the clean energy economy, and actively plan for a clean energy future which virtually every other utility in the country is doing.
● Start taking energy conservation seriously. Last, but definitely not least, conservation is the cheapest and cleanest energy resource for NorthWestern’s customers, but NorthWestern continues to ignore its immense value.
Conservation investments by a utility save every customer money whether they participate in the program or not. We also can’t meet our climate goals without relying on energy efficiency and conservation. In 2022, NorthWestern needs to start taking this resource seriously and invest in the only resource that actually saves customers money.
The new year is a chance for all of us to start making better choices. NorthWestern’s leadership team needs to take this opportunity and clean up its act for the sake of its customers’ pocketbooks and Montanans who want safe, affordable and reliable energy. These resolutions will help guarantee clean air, clean water, and a healthy climate for present and future generations.