Montana Waaaay Far Behind in Renewables

by jhwygirl

Relatively speaking and not so relatively speaking.

Renewable Energy World released its state rankings of grades given by the solar energy. Where does Montana fall? 39th (or 40th if you count D.C.).

That’s a 2010 ranking by the industry. In calculating that ranking, 50% of Montana’s score (our score being a pithy 17 out of 100) depends upon “incentives”. Our grade in “incentives”? F.

Before ya’all go saying that solar doesn’t work here in Montana, check the maps out here, provided by National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Compare that to the states that top us in rank? Factor in size, too? So Illinois, ranking 8, blows us away. Pennsylvania, ranking 5th? Again – blowing us away.

Here is a burgeoning industry and we’re in a state with enormous solar potential and we have zilcho, comparatively speaking, to virtually all the other states in the union.

Stimson mill sits empty with railroad tracks running through it..they’re recycling silicon in Butte (a major component of photovoltaic cells), and Montana isn’t doing diddly squat to bring those kind of elements together to produce jobs.

But how about those flag-waving jobs to move Korean-built tar sands equipment? Jobs, jobs, jobs!

Moving on to wind…..

Here’s a 2009 ranking for wind energy production, state by state. Montana’s ranking? We do a bit better here (and should) – 18th.

But should we do better? Check the maps. Washington, California, Oregon? Top us on the list, yet our potential outshines them – by far. Colorado, New York, New Mexico….Indiana? Same there.

The Montana legislature squabble over the minutia of this stuff, often blaming it on MEPA and over-regulation. Anyone want to believe that looking at how places like California and New York out-rank us? Because, you know, California and New York are so regulation-free. Others put out there that the lack of powerlines to transmit the stuff doesn’t exist, which really isn’t true. It’s the lack of incentives to bring solar and wind energy here – and remember, that’s the industry talking.

Blaming MEPA is a bunch of crap. Any major transmission line has to go through NEPA, mainly because anything moving across Montana is going to be hitting federal lands…and NEPA is far more onerous.

This is where tax incentives should come in. I’m tired of hearing the GOP leaders talk about and advocate for blanket cuts in business taxes. We have business here. They pay taxes. They employ people. Do you honestly think the mere act of cutting their taxes is going to create jobs? The reality is that we’ve cut all sorts of business taxes and we’ve not seen any appreciable growth in the number of people employed by these businesses. We’ve seen new businesses..but not growth in existing business (which is the state purpose of the tax cuts, right?) If you are going to propose blanket business tax breaks, provide Montanans with some data showing how many jobs will be created by these existing businesses for whom you are cutting taxes.

That way we can confirm that you are wrong. Or correct.

Do you dare?

Every blanket break in taxes for existing businesses falls to someone else to pay – meaning….private property owners.

I’m not alone in thinking that…we just need good people to speak up. Everyone knows – thoughtful conservatives and liberals alike – that blanket tax breaks for existing businesses aren’t going to create enough new jobs (if any) to make up for the loss in tax revenue. Calling for tax cuts might get you elected..but if you defunct the government in doing so, you aren’t doing your job.

Montana needs targeted tax breaks for high paying industries that guarantee jobs and investment here in Montana. Guarantee jobs? Guaranteed tax incentives. Invest in Montana – help them with some incentives to get here. Tier these incentives based on the number of jobs and the taxable payroll. This isn’t rocket science – an increase in taxable payroll means more people paying taxes and supporting more businesses here in Montana.

We’re hounding down 2010..and the 2011 legislative season looms. There’s 28 days until election. Let’s hear some real tax policy talk from candidates on both sides of the aisle. Let’s talk substance, not talking points.


I don’t want to hear “cut taxes” and “cut business taxes” from GOP talking heads like Mat Stevenson and Champ Edmunds like I did the other night at the Target Range Homeowners Association meeting. Frankly, I ended up feeling kind of sorry for the poor fellas, and there’s really no other way to say it. While I sat and listened to the candidates from several legislative seats speak, both of these guys had it pretty tough from the crowd of mostly seniors in the audience when they started with their GOP talking points call to “cut taxes” and railing against “big government.”

So much so that when asked to be specific about what they would cut..they couldn’t answer. When begged to suggest anything that they would cut…they said they couldn’t answer until they “looked at what was proposed.”

When even that tactic of avoidance didn’t work as it was pointed out to them that they seemed ill-informed to be running for an office when they hadn’t even looked at the current year’s budget, Stevenson insisted that we (as in Republicans) would “find stuff to cut.” This angered an older fellow in the crowd who quickly took to giving him the hook (yep – it was as painful as it sounds), saying “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Here’s an idea: Targeted tax cuts tied to job creation. Tax cuts that don’t shoulder more upon property owners. Tax cuts that create new high paying jobs that increase tax overall tax revenue.

As Martha would say: That’s a good thing.


  1. Lucky

    No problem JH. We got it covered. The Legislative Energy Committeehas drafted a bill (LC 319) to revise the definition of renewable energy to include upgrades to hydroelectric facilities as brand new renewable power. So, when a dam rewires a generator that it would have had to do anyhow, bingo! New renewable power is created for Montana’s Renewable Portfolio and PPL gets a brand new tax break. Cool huh? They couldn’t get it through the legislature last year, but try, try again.

    • Chuck

      I love it Lucky!
      You understand how the whole scam works.
      Don’t forget all the green tags Missoula City Council will sell using all that new , clean and green PPL power!

  2. Moorcat

    While I agree that the industry that produces solar energy in Montana could definitely bolster our flagging economy, the actual use of solar power in Montana is problematic for a number of reasons. We are blessed with a bountiful amount of “solar days” (far more than anyone living on the coast) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the conversion of that solar energy is easy or economical given our climate. Having researched solar construction based on the climate here in Dillon, it can be quite spendy and questionably successful. It also has a high maintenence upkeep because of the severe delta T from summer to winter.

    Passive Solar works VERY well here in Montana, though and I encourage anyone looking to build a new home to consider using passive solar principles in thier design.

  3. Ingemar Johansson

    I surprised we don’t get credit for wood stoves. Look at Missoula in the winter.

    How ’bout pellet stoves? Still no credit.

    I guess “renewable” doesn’t apply to trees.

    • JC

      What about Missoula in the winter? And you do know that there are restrictions on wood stoves and pellet stoves in Missoula, don’t you?

      Or do you just think that anybody can burn wood in MIssoula as much as they want, and that encouraging and subsidizing that via credits is a good thing, cuz, ya know, trees are “renewable.”

      Well, lungs are not renewable, and lung disease due to winter wood burning in Missoula is the reason the health department put restrictions on wood stoves in town.

      Got a problem with that?

  4. ladybug

    Tester wants to burn trees at the Stone site to generate electricity. How stupid and unhealthy is that?

  5. ladybug

    Now that would make a great man-in-the-street interview. Has anybody noticed? Does anybody care, as long as you can still see the football in Washington-Grizzly Stadium?

  6. Chuck

    Nobody cares because they are all looking for jobs or busy moving.

  7. exactly chuck. survival is key right now. everything else takes a back seat to it.

    we need to get back to the basics if we expect to reach people here folks.

    think jobs. foreclosures. jobs. homelessness. jobs. payday loans. jobs health insurance. jobs.

    survival is all that is on everyone’s minds these days… is my job safe? will i be able to survive this recession? how can i pay for everything? child care? groceries? insurance? mortgage? credit card bills?

    nobody gives a rats ass about anything else out there except surviving.

    j-girl is wondering why our states governor is chasing temporary highway flagging jobs when we could be building a real industry in this state with real jobs. solar. wind. etc.

    i wonder the same.

    • I know the governor’s older than me, but does anyone else remember during the Reagan recession when everyone was “Buy American”?

      Everything is made in China these days…I have a hell of a time finding dog biscuits, fcs, that aren’t made in China.

      Clothes? Fuggetaboutit…it’s impossible. Even Levi’s are made in China.

      Schweitzer’s jumped the shark, IMNSHO….advocating for flag-waving jobs? Temporary at that?

      How did we get here?

  8. Chuck

    New report. 29,000 private sector jobs lost last month when the estimate was for a 30,000 gain.
    I’ve said it for a year , the stimulus is not working. I would suggest a “time out” on further stimulus spending and chart a new course.

    • JC

      The stimulus was far too small to have the needed effect on the size of the output gap (which was larger than predicted when they were writing the stim). The republicans hamstrung it so as to create a political problem for dems. Seems the strategy had the political effect they desired. Can’t say I appreciate the effect all this politicking has had on american families, though.

      As I read elsewhere, this is similar to a person taking antibiotics. Except the only take two a day, when they should take four. Then after a week, they throw the rest away saying “these don’t work,” I’ll just have to try something different.

      And about this “chart a new course?” Have anything to do with extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and repealing health care?

      Or you got something better to add to the discussion on how to deal with rampant unemployment?

      • A more apt analogy – someone smokes extensively and gets a lung disease. They are medicated to treat the illness, but like you said they don’t take enough medicine, but rather than simply stopping the medicine (ie, halting the stimulus), they vow to start smoking again (wealth – skewing tax policies, a Vegas-style financial industry) – the same activity that caused their problems – because the medicine wasn’t working quickly enough.

        There’s only two ways this can end – in the hospital for a lung transplant (in this case, nationalizing the banks, implementing extreme and disruptive wealth redistribution policies), or death (economic catastrophe, the result of eventual austerity programs to pay down an ever-growing debt born from our continuing middle-class stagnation and refusal to tax the wealthy).

        Lizard is rooting for the former, and may be correct in so doing; I’d appreciate us just taking out pills.

    • TARP happened under the Bush Administration.

  9. Chuck

    Hold Schweitzer accountable.
    One example:
    Rather than giving the wink of approval to Exxon for the Kearl shipments he could have said ” no way” and insisted they be designed by Montana engineers, built with Montana tradespeople and shipped on Montana trucks and rails. We could have built whatever infrastructure was needed to make it happen. Baucus could have introduced whatever bill we needed to make our steel competitive. We could have hardball ourselves hundreds of jobs and maybe created a new industry. Why would Exxon go along?
    Exxon and their distributors have a huge stake in Montana , way bigger than most realize and the state can make their life easy or tough. This is just a guess , but I’d bet that in any early informal meetings with Exxon that may have been held , Schweitzer gave away the farm for a dozen flagging jobs. Your Gov is an amateur playing at business and needs to really get in the game or hire some competent staff. He fuk’d up this Exxon Kearl opportunity.
    Some don’t believe the Gov is ineffective. Look hard at the Otter Creek “auction” and the fire sale price he settled for. The coal industry wasn’t going to bid on those assets, and it was the worse kept secret in the industry.
    Your Gov is in Israel this week for another talk a thon. He will come back and announce a bunch of jobs promised by pillars of industry and in a couple years when nothing happens no one will hold him accountable for failure to produce.
    Check his record on alternative energy failures and promises unfulfilled. Wind , coal , biofuels, solar, conservation…it hasn’t happened under the watch of the Energy Gov. He is a fake.

  10. Chuck

    We are way behind in alternative energy development because the Gov is a coal guy and has invested his entire career in that. We are behind because he put his chips in the coal pile and he misread the global warming politics.
    In 2008 , with great fanfare, the Gov announced a coal to liquids fuel program with the Crow Tribe. Whether you are for or against coal liquefaction it looks like the pilot project ain’t gonna happen anyway. The Governor’s and the Crow’s Many Stars Plan is actually just going to turn into another coal mine so the tribes can make some money and the Gov can tax the coal. I am in favor of coal liquification and the jobs it would bring to the tribes. Note that big oil does not want competition for their refineries in Billings.

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