Students to NorthWestern Energy: Provide 100 percent clean energy to UM by 2030

NorthWestern Energy is supporting a bill in the Montana Legislature which would allow the company to buy the Colstrip power plant for $1. (Alexis Bonogofsky/Montana Free Press)

The Associated Students of the University of Montana passed a resolution this week calling on NorthWestern Energy to provide only clean energy to the university by 2030.

In their resolution, students pointed out that climate change is already causing severe harm to the planet, and theirs is the generation that must deal with worsening conditions.

The 2010 UM Climate Action Plan set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2020, an even more ambitious goal, but that can’t happen without NorthWestern Energy’s commitment to clean power.

Meanwhile, the city of Missoula set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

Why the big deal about 2030? That’s when the world must reduce emissions to almost half of 2010 levels to avoid warming the atmosphere more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in early October.

The target was initially 2 degrees, but scientists now predict it will take less than that to cause catastrophe: massive ecosystem loss, potentially irreversible melting of ice sheets triggering sea-level rise affecting millions, and massive species extinction.

In 2010, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere oscillated around 390 parts per million. Last April, the concentration broke 410 ppm for the first time, and 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.

In 2008, James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and seven other scientists set a limit of 350 ppm for the Earth to remain viable.

Utility companies can play a big role in helping to avoiding those effects, but NorthWestern Energy has been reluctant to add more renewable energy to its services or allowing others to do so.

While NorthWestern sponsored a few solar corporate solar projects around the state over the years, its lobbyists have opposed allowing solar-panel owners to sell excess electricity to the grid.

Most recently, the company backed a bill in the Montana Legislature that would use ratepayers’ money to keep the Colstrip power plant open.

Because coal can be as much as 80 percent carbon, it adds the most carbon to the atmosphere than any other source. Continued use of coal power plants makes the 2030 goal a difficult, if not impossible to meet.

“This bill would turn regulation around and use it to shift risks to captive consumers. It would make NorthWestern’s ratepayers the sole guarantors of all future Colstrip costs,” said Jason Brown of the Montana Consumer Counsel.

NorthWestern could buy Colstrip plant for $1, pass on costs under bill