Laurel Outlook: Energy is focus on several fronts in March

The Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative’s breakfast, Thursday, March 24, highlighted the need for electricity generators to be innovative and flexible in face of new regulations which will go into effect as the EPA implements the Clean Power Plan in an effort to reduce carbon emissions in the form of CO2, a by-product of coal combustion and contributor to global warming. 

Basin Electric Power Cooperative (YVEC’s parent company) is somewhat reluctantly making plans to transition to cleaner methods of electric generation, a step speaker Steve Tomac of Basin Electric said the company was already in the process of doing, but at a pace that wouldn’t disrupt the entire industry or cause dramatic rate increases. Tomac is a former rodeo clown and has served in both houses of North Dakota’s legislature. 

The Clean Power Plan requires limiting CO2 and adding renewables to generation portfolios at a nearly impossible rate, he said. Basin Electric is based in North Dakota and through its partners like YVEC  provides electricity to 2.8 million customers in nine U.S. states.

“We’re being asked to abandon coal generating plants at about half their useful life between now and 2030,” he said. “Currently there is no commercially viable technology to remove CO2.” 

Consumers could see a 40 percent rate increase because the timeline is so tight, Tomac said. He went through the three possible approaches: beat the rule; change the rule; or meet the rule.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary stay in early February halting implementation of the plan pending the outcome of legal challenges in court, Basin Electric is moving forward with its efforts to meet the rule. Environmentalists and several states have filed appeals in reaction to the stay on President Obama’s foremost and most wide-ranging environmental initiative. The appeals will be begin in June.

“Out next step is to learn to live in a carbon restrained world,” Tomac said. He said that since most Republicans are so against the CPP, utilities have to rely on Democrats, who, in general are open to modifying the timeline, if not the requirements. Senator Heidi Heitcamp of North Dakota, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana were all named as lawmakers who are working to lessen the impact on electricity generators and ratepayers.

Because the new EPA regulations will have the most impact on the upper midwest states including Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, a number of local politicians were in attendance. Many were gathering information while others already had their minds made up. A truck in the parking lot waved the American flag and boasted a campaign poster for Montana Public Service Commission candidate Tony O’Donnell who promises to fight Obama, reverse the CPP, and bolster coal mining, if elected.

With the focus on energy because of the co-op’s annual meeting and the Montana Energy 2016 summit underway this week, Senator Steve Daines completed a 10-city tour promoting made-in-Montana energy, stopping at the CHS refinery in Laurel, March 21. He also made 

stops in Colstrip, Miles City, Baker, Glendive, Sidney, Great Falls, Missoula, Helena and Butte.

“Montana is truly an all-of-the-above energy state – we have significant coal and natural gas deposits, oil, hydro, wind, solar and biomass that powers Montana and the country. And it’s all right here in our back yard– right here in Montana,” Daines said “It was a great week speaking with hundreds of Montanans who are coming together to support made-in-Montana energy that provides a reliable, low-cost source of energy and creates more good-paying jobs.” He added that he was excited to continue the conversation this week at Montana Energy 2016. The conference is in Billings and continues through today.