The Montana economy has followed the direction of the nation with maybe the exception of a couple of our neighboring states. This recession has been the result of many failed governmental policies that attempted to choose winners and losers in many areas of the economy. From the Government policy that everyone should own a home, which brought on the Real Estate collapse followed immediately by the Banking disaster. In most every case that I know of, every time the Government makes a policy decision to benefit a particular industry, the end result is that the American taxpayer ends up being on the hook for the “unintended consequences” of the failed experiment.
This is the situation that we have now with the “Green Energy” movement and the new wind and solar power policies. On the national front we have the ‘Solyndra’ fiasco. Where the US Department of Energy guaranteed the loan over the better judgment of the agency that oversees the commitment of Federal funds. In Montana we have taxpayer money committed to provide tax credits for “Energy Conservation”, “Alternative Fuel” and “Alternative Energy and Geothermal Energy”. The total taxpayer money used for these programs add up to more than $12 Million dollars . To add insult to injury the energy produced by these installations are being forced into the power grid at a cost that is much higher than the power produced by the current facilities that use Hydro and fossil fuels. The argument is that wind power is lower cost. Without the Federal and State subsidies and lower tax rates the cost remains significantly higher and if we calculate the added cost of required “back-up” generation, using either Hydro or Fossil fuels, then the cost skyrockets.
No one should read into my comments that I am against utilizing the wind or the sun as an energy source. On the contrary, any and all viable sources must be considered to provide to the people of Montana a consistent, predictable and sustainable flow of energy for homes and industry. Whatever the source, it must be supplied at a competitive price without extraordinary subsidies or tax considerations. A level playing field is mandatory to assure the consumer a supply of electricity at the lowest possible price.
The cost of energy is a major factor for the recovery and future growth of our state. Consider Montana’s economy since de-regulation and the resulting run up on prices. Because of high energy rates, Montana has lost industries and the jobs that they create. Look at the closing of Simpson Lumber, Smurfitt-Stone and CF Aluminum, the effects on the lives of the workers and the total community is devastating. Among those hit the hardest is our schools. Not only they lose significant revenue because of the reduction in the tax base, the resulting loss of students because of up-rooted families makes it difficult to sustain quality educational opportunities at desired levels. I am positive that Montanan’s will welcome alternative forms of energy but only if the source does not result in higher cost of either electricity or taxes. Alternative energy must compete without special considerations.
The Montana economy is complex but it must be interactive and balanced. Any action is subject to a reaction. Individuals who are elected to represent the consumer must have neither an agenda nor a passion for anything other than the lowest possible costs of energy for the consumer that is supplied by a public utility. Any attempt by the legislature the Public Service Commission or a government agency to choose winners and losers will only result in inequities and an artificial economy that will constantly require additional support to survive. If allowed, the Montana economy will return to the strong and stable growth that we have enjoyed in the past. A strong economy that provides jobs for our families, a future for our young people and the revenue needed to support those programs that are needed by the citizens of Montana.