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Schweitzer: Montana Can Lead The Coming Energy Revolution

Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
File photo (PD)
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Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer

Former Governor Brian Schweitzer says Montana is well-positioned to help lead what he believes is the country's inevitable energy revolution.

"We're one of the 31 states that passed a [mandatory] renewable energy portfolio. Electricity that we're using in Montana, more than 15 percent of our portfolio is already from renewables."

There's nothing new about a politician extolling the virtues of "clean and green" technology, but most of the planet's machinery and economies still run on fossil fuels. Schweitzer says he's convinced that's about to change. He's laid out his position in his new book, "Power Up.energy".

"We don't have a shortage of energy on this planet. We have solar, we have wind, we have potential with hydrocarbons and other energy sources. Our problem is our ability to store it from when we make it to when we use it."

Schweitzer's convinced that's a problem we're on the cusp of solving. He believes the most logical place to start the energy revolution is in the transportation sector.

"Trains, trucks, cars and planes are only 30 percent of our energy consumption in the United States. It is the energy consumption from the transportation fuels that have gotten us addicted to those petro-dictators all over the world."

Schweitzer thinks natural gas is the perfect way to wean the transportation sector from its dependence on oil.

"America only has 2 percent of the world's known oil supplies. We have about six-and-a-half percent of the world's natural gas supply. Natural gas can be our bridge-fuel until we're able to put batteries in our homes, batteries in our cars until we can start transferring the fuel from petroleum to non-petroleum sources such as solar and wind."

Battery technology is the key. All the solar panels and wind farms in the world don't amount to much without good batteries to store and help distribute that energy. Schweitzer says renewable energy sources, good batteries and new metering technologies will enable Americans to routinely buy, store and even sell their own power for a little bit of profit. Schweitzer points out existing lithium batteries are already better - and cheaper - than ever:

"The price of lithium batteries has dropped by about 300 percent just in the last 12 years. Solar panels in the last 30 years have dropped from $80 per watt to .80 cents per watt. That's why you can produce electricity on your roof cheaper than your utility that deliver it to you."

More utilities are now slowly and steadily investing in renewable energy. They're urging caution because they say they want to protect their customers from unforeseen and unfair price increases. Schweitzer doesn't buy it. He calls them monopolies that are based on a "Stalinist business model." He says they're slow to innovate and will pay the price when more of their customers start generating and selling their own power. He's equally as skeptical of the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to reduce carbon emissions in the United States.

"People like Elon Musk and SolarCity who are now putting solar panels up on people's roofs and not charging a penny, leasing them the solar panel and guaranteeing them that over 20 years they'll sell them electricity from their own panels on their own roofs for less money than the utilities will always win over regulators in Washington DC."

On the political front, Schweitzer, Montana's former Democratic governor, says he hopes his successor, Steve Bullock, gets reelected next year.

"When I left office we had a budget surplus. We still have that same surplus. Steve Bullock hasn't raised anybody's taxes. He's invested in education. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the history of this state. When you've got a coach with a 10-1 season, it's not the time to look for a new coach."

Edward O'Brien: Do you miss it? Would you like to get back into (politics)?

"I'm so happy running my businesses, taking care of my dog full time and working on my ranch. I’m proud of the things Montanans were able to do together while I was governor, but that’s in my rear-view mirror. I have lived my life in chapters. I lived a chapter in the Middle East. I ran ranches in Montana for a chapter. I was governor of Montana for a chapter and I’m on to new chapters. I’m enjoying life.”

Brian Schweitzer’s touring the state signing copies of his latest book, "Power Up.energy". Schweitzer will be at Hastings in Bozeman this Saturday from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., and at Hastings in Billings  from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. He’ll be in Missoula this Sunday from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. at Fact and Fiction Bookstore.

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