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Renewable Energy Bill on Governor’s Desk...Again

PHOTO: A bill sitting on Gov. Steve Bullock's desk is one he's seen before. The legislation would allow existing hydropower dams to qualify for incentives under the state's Renewable Energy Standard. He vetoed a similar bill two years ago because of concerns about the impact on development of new renewable projects. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: A bill sitting on Gov. Steve Bullock's desk is one he's seen before. The legislation would allow existing hydropower dams to qualify for incentives under the state's Renewable Energy Standard. He vetoed a similar bill two years ago because of concerns about the impact on development of new renewable projects. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
March 20, 2015

HELENA, Mont. - A bill sitting on Gov. Steve Bullock's desk is one he's seen before. The legislation would allow existing hydropower dams to qualify for incentives under the state's Renewable Energy Standard.

The governor vetoed a similar bill two years ago because of concerns that the move would allow hydro to edge out new projects for other renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Bridger-area farmer Dick Espenscheid depends on solar and geothermal energy for his operation and said he doesn't want to see hydropower hurt the renewable market.

"The future really is pointing towards alternative energy and we need to get aboard," he said. "People really believe that we have to clean up our air. Alternative energy is big and going to get a lot bigger."

The bill, SB 114, was sponsored by Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, and promoted as an issue of fairness to the hydropower industry. Hydropower is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as renewable energy.

Espenscheid said the Renewable Energy Standard was created to incentivize new energy development, not existing projects - and some of the hydropower facilities are decades old.

There are other things to think about when it comes to hydropower, Espenscheid said, since there's debate about environmental concerns. He added that there's an abundant amount of solar and wind energy potential not currently being utilized in Montana.

"I think it's just too short of a solution," he said. "The other sources of energy are far less impactful, like solar and wind."

Hydropower facilities do qualify for Renewable Energy Standard incentives when making upgrades. The bill on the governor's desk would expand the offer to existing facilities even without making upgrades.

The text of SB 114 is online at leg.mt.gov.

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