Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Advocates of providing at least 25 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by the year 2025 told members of the 25x'25 steering committee that the effort, along with reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and reducing global warming, would provide millions of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic stimulus in the country, including a major impact in Montana. “By 2025 (Montana’s) economy could be boosted $3.5 billion a year ,” Ernie Shea, project coordinator for 25x’25 said in an interview. “If anything, we think we are being conservative,” he added. The steering committee for the 25x’25 grassroots organization pushing for the renewable energy goal met in Havre Wednesday at Montana State University- Northern’s Applied Technology Center before touring the Chester biodiesel facilities of Earl Fisher BioFuels and Bio-Agtive at the Craig Henke farm south of Chester. Tuesday Gov. Brian Schweitzer, an advocate of renewable energy, attended a renewable energy roundtable forum the group held in Great Falls. An analysis of the economic impact of increasing renewable energy to 25 percent of the nation’s source by 2025 conducted by economists At the University of Tennessee estimates that the increase would generate $700 billion in economic activity annually in the United States and provide 4-5 million new jobs, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons annually. The report also has estimates broken down by state, including Montana. The economic impacts in the state are estimated at more than $2 billion a year directly from agricultural and renewable energy impacts, with a total impact of more than $3.5 billion including incidental jobs and economic impact. The report estimates that Montana’s farm net income would increase by $324 million, and that farm and forest production would provide 10 million dry tons of produce for renewable energy. It also estimates that Montana would provide nearly 74 billion kilowatt hours of electricity through renewable sources. Using the wind Ed DeMeo, a consultant from Palo Alto, Calif., told the steering committee that a study released in May concluded that the goal of providing 20 percent of the country’s power through wind energy by the year 2030 is completely feasible. “The answer comes out, there’s a huge wind resource in this country,” DeMeo said. The investment to provide 20 percent by 2030 is significant $43 billion but it is actually a small percentage of the cost to upgrade the U.S. power system whether wind is part of it or not, DeMeo said. “The total electrical power systems’ costs will exceed $2 trillion no matter what we do,” he said. “The net effect of the wind scenario will cost a little more than 2 percent” of that total. He added that the net effect of the $43 billion for wind power would be about 50 cents a month per household. But the benefits offset that cost, DeMeo said. One advantage would be reducing the demand for natural gas, which would also reduce the cost of natural gas. He said the estimate is a savings of $150 billion in natural gas. Another benefit is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which could offset future expenses in eliminating greenhouse gases. DeMeo said in Europe there is already a tax for eliminating carbon dioxide $30 a ton. DeMeo said the process would also provide an estimated $440 billion in income for jobs directly and indirectly related to the industry design, construction, operation, support and incidental jobs. “This kind of activity would keep a lot of people busy doing productive things,” he said. Cooperating cooperatives Carol Whitman of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said a push is on by cooperatives to increase renewable energy as well. A group of 24 cooperatives in 31 states, including Basin Electric Power Cooperative which supplies much of the electricity used by Hill County Electric, have formed the National Renewables Cooperative Organization to try to supply renewable energy throughout the country. Whitman said that while some areas like Montana have tremendous renewable energy resources like wind and other power, other areas don’t have those resources. “It’s a big country ,” Whitman said. “Other places you don’t have that. “One of the things the co-ops knew if they formed this,” she said, “is those on the southeast, for example, could take advantage of the renewable resources in other states.” Whitman said the organization is in the early stages of development. “This is new. This is innovation. It’s the first of its kind,” she said. But, Whitman added, “This is the kind of thing coops do. They help each other.” New power lines One of the developments required for and potentially stimulating development of renewable energy is building new power distribution systems to allow areas with renewable energy resources to share them with the country, John Etchart of Helena said. Etchart, is of the consulting group Gallatin Public Affairs which is involved in the work to build a transmission line tying together the power grids between Montana and Alberta. He said it will be the last of the power grids between the United States and Canada to be connected. Etchart said that despite enjoying high support from the public and the state government, the tie-in has been slow moving forward, but is close to receiving its final permit. “We’re on the 2-yard line on a first down,” he said. “I think we’ll have the last permit within 90 days.” Etchart said the process moves very slowly, with problems in regulations and in convincing landowners to allow the line to be built. “There are always the same questions, who’s going to pay, where is it going to go, and who decides who is going to pay and where it is going to go,” he said. The Montana-Alberta line is being planned on a different model than usual, Etchart said: using private investment. Most lines are either owned by the government or utilities, he said. “This project is being built by risk capital,” Etchart said. He said that model is something that should be considered for other renewable energy projects. “This merchant model is something you should look at, you should push for with policy makers,” Etchart said. “In wind power development, there is a niche here for private money, private development.” Using higher learning Duane Acker, a member of the steering committee and former president of Kansas State University and a former deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said colleges and universities like Montana State University-Northern can and must play a significant role in developing renewable energy. He added that that while Kansas State University had to compete for money, while president of the university he knew the key was providing knowledge. “We competed in the legislature for dollars but we didn’t need to compete for ignorance. There’s enough of that to go around,” Acker said. He said higher education will play a key role in developing the technology for renewable resources, implementing it, training people to work in the industry and even in building support for the idea. While researchers, designers and workers can be trained at and work in colleges and universities, the institutions can also be training advocates and political scientists to answer the questions people have about renewable energy, he said. “Knowledge is the key,” Acker said.