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Montana Co-op Members Want Energy Diversity

PHOTO: Several rural Montana electricity co-op members are encouraging co-ops to diversify their energy sources, including adding more wind and solar. Photo credit: Bob Henson/National Science Foundation.
PHOTO: Several rural Montana electricity co-op members are encouraging co-ops to diversify their energy sources, including adding more wind and solar. Photo credit: Bob Henson/National Science Foundation.
November 25, 2014

FERGUS COUNTY, Mont. - Rural electric co-ops in Western Montana have made no secret of their opposition to proposed EPA rules that would require a reduction in carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Some of the co-ops have long-term contracts with energy companies to purchase coal-generated electricity. But not all co-op members agree coal should be the primary source of energy. Roy O'Connor is one of those speaking up about the need to diversify, in part, to protect bottom lines that are threatened by climate change.

"The direction our environment is pointing us in is renewable energies," said O'Connor. "In Montana, it seems like wind is the best, but solar is also a workable, renewable source for electricity in certain areas."

O'Connor owns a wind farm in Fergus County and is a member of the Missoula Electric Co-op and Fergus Electric Co-op. Co-ops use their bargaining power to purchase electricity at lower rates than individuals. O'Connor and several other co-op members have signed a letter asking co-ops to be more open to other energy sources.

Mark Fix, a member of the Tongue River Electric Co-op, acknowledged Montana's long history tied to coal, but said he wants the state's other electricity resources to be developed. He believes co-ops can help make that happen, and says the Tongue River Dam could be outfitted to produce electricity.

"The Tongue River Water Users and the state want to put power generation in," said Fix. "Obviously it wouldn't be enough to power the whole co-op, but every little bit helps."

Fix said that adding other sources to the electricity mix doesn't mean "no coal." In fact, he said, coal has to be a component of the electricity portfolio in Montana.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT