On Tuesday, Governor Steve Bullock released a plan to guide Montana’s energy future.
The plan calls for legislation and funding for energy projects, including $5 million for a revolving fund for energy conservation projects in schools and local governments.
Bullock also wants funding to expand wind and solar power projects and find cleaner ways to burn coal.
“Montanans do expect that we will protect our clean air and clean water, our lucrative outdoor heritage, our communities and our farmers and ranchers," he said. "And that is why I am committed to sustainable and responsible development of all of our energy resources to benefit our state.”
Bullock says coal is an important part of Montana’s future. The state holds the largest coal reserves in the country. But Bullock also said the energy market is changing and there are concerns about climate change.
“By moving us toward more renewable energy, and encouraging innovation and energy efficiency. Because really, the only constant here is change. And as the saying goes, you’re either driving the bus or you’re under it," Bullock said.
Bullock wants the state to be more energy efficient and reduce overall electricity use by 10 percent by the end of 2025. The governor’s plan also calls for a doubling of solar energy development in the state over the next decade.
Henry Dykema is president of the Montana Renewable Energy Association and owner of Sundance Solar Systems.
He says Bullock’s goal of increasing solar development is very achievable.
“Not only is it possible, I think we will do it well prior to that," he said. "The rate that the development of solar is moving in the state, which is about 30 percent a year, I think we are going to get to that and exceed that in the time that he has laid out.”
Dykema says the governor was also realistic in his acknowledgment of coal’s future in Montana.
“I think that it is unrealistic to just close the door on one technology and open another door on another and expect the other to fill the role of the historic one,” he said.
In his plan, Bullock says he will continue to demand fair treatment for Montana’s coal industry with the federal government. That’s something that Chuck Denowh, with the advocacy group Count on Coal Montana, says the coal industry needs.
“This biggest challenge for coal right now is political. We’re facing a plethora of regulations coming from the federal government aimed at one thing: Killing coal,” Denowh said.
In Billings today, U.S. Senator Steve Daines held a separate meeting to accept comments on a potential overhaul of the federal government’s coal leasing program. Montana had been left off a U.S. Interior Department list of events asking the public to weigh in on the changes. Testimony from the meeting will be recorded, transcribed and submitted to the Interior Department as part of public comment on the proposed changes.
Count on Coal Montana’s Chuck Denowh says Bullock has been listening to the needs of coal country, more so now than he has in the past.
“The governor has been responding to the political winds out there right now," Denowh. "There is a ton of concern and fear, especially in Billings and Colstrip and the coal-producing parts of the state. There is a lot of concern about what the future is going to bring. And so I think the governor has been responding to that, especially it being an election year.”
The impact of Bullock's plan could hinge on his ability to be re-elected as governor.
His Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, questioned the timing of the governor’s announcement, saying it took Bullock four years to come up with the plan.