NW Montana Takes Another Job Loss Hit – Blame It on the Free Market

by jhwygirl

NW Montana – Columbia Falls, to be specific – is taking another significant living-wage job loss hit, this time in the form of the closure of the Columbia Falls Aluminum (CFA) plant. The Missoulian’s Michael Jamison has a meaty story up on the closure and how the plant got to that point.

Cheap subsidized electricity, or rising electricity costs, depending on how you look at it.

Jamison details the court challenges that brought the cost of power for the plant to where it is today. A few things strike me, first being the tenacity of both BPA (a quasi-governmental outfit that moves power around the Pacific Northwest) and CFA: BPA was sued for providing at-cost power. BPA lost. BPA and CFA immediately put together a “bridge” agreement to continue more of the same. BPA is sued again. BPA loses again.

Screw the courts, they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Secondly, I wonder about that relationship between BPA and CFA. And who else is getting that kind of deal? BPA is a quasi-government entity. They operate with a pretty swift hand when the see fit, under the umbrella of eminent domain and all other sorts of perks afforded to it where they operate. But they were also created out of an act in Congress, for the sole purpose of moving power from the NW’s dams to other areas in the West for no cost. That is (ah-hem) non-profit.

So when BPA was providing so-called “no cost” power CPA – and keeping in mind, BPA is a non-profit, so they’re not actually cutting their losses by cutting someone a deal – consumers were paying whatever it is we were paying.

Someone was paying for CPA’s power, and it wasn’t some for-profit corporate executives salary (it rarely is) – it was the taxpayer. You and me. Anyone using electricity here in Montana – anywhere here in the West or the region BPA serves – Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

Many people wonder where the power produced here in Montana goes. So do I. Montana can champion all those windmill sites (some going back to having been approved by Martz) – but if the power’s going to California, big friggin’ deal. If the consumer here in Montana is paying for the infrastructure that moves Montana-made power down to California, well – now that there would be pretty screwed up now, wouldn’t it?

Montana can run around championing a 210 megawatt plan near Glacier but if the power is bound for California, its Montana championing green energy for California while creating just a dozen full time jobs here in Montana and a whole bunch of powerlines running across our landscape.

Montana’s not gonna get green browning up our landscape with powerlines for California. That’s all I’m sayin’.

And as for the free market? Seems everyone loves it until they actually have to live with it.

  1. Chuck

    I’m sure you meant Columbia Falls.

  2. ochenski

    Jhwygirl – the reality is that Hungry Horse dam was built to provide that power…damming a big, important river that belongs to the public to produce almost free power for a private enterprise that consumed, in its heyday, almost as much power as all Montana’s residential consumers. Think about that. Public resources for private interests. And by the way, you wouldn’t want to think that smelter didn’t put out any pollution. The name Loren Kreck may not mean much to the younger folks out there, but he was a hero up there when he fought a tremendous and winning battle to bring the smelter flouride emissions under control decades ago. You ought to check out what flouride does to cattle, by the way. Deforms their bones so they can’t even stand on their own legs.

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