By: Reilly Teigen
JUDITH GAP, Mt – Finally, our last day! We stopped at the 90-turbine wind farm, but unfortunately few were running due to the slow winds. However, I was able to get a burning question answered: “What do wind farms receive in subsidies and how would they do without them?”
The Judith Gap wind farm received 10 years of tax credits. Taxes that could’ve gone towards education, infrastructure, defense, and other essential government functions. The wind farm is 13 years old, and is now profitable, if only by a thin margin.
On top of this, wind power is not reliable as it must wait for the weather to be right. Furthermore, the wind power worker told me that their operation wouldn’t have been built without the tax credit, and he knew of no wind farm which was able to be built without some subsidy.
With all these negatives, why do we continue to subsidize wind? If Colstrip power plant were to close, over 25 hundred people would lose their jobs. If the Judith Gap wind farm closed? Only 12 people would find themselves unemployed. Wind is a “feel good” energy that currently has failed to reach the ability to compete with other power sources. Let’s wait on wind, the technology needs to catch up to baseline power sources.
By Zach Archambault
JUDITH GAP, Montana—We need fossil fuels, and I know that fossil fuels are the main cause of anthropogenic climate change. Burning coal and using gasoline wreak havoc on the environment. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased 100 ppm in the past 60 years, a change that had occurred naturally would’ve taken up to 20,000 years (Ann Rodman). Just based on that, fossil fuels should clearly have no place in our future. But for now? They’re too essential to drop.
Many leftists blindly assume that the immediate termination of fossil fuel power would be a good thing, but if you like your electricity reliable and plentiful, then this solution is a double edged sword.
Baseline power (the minimum power required to meet the maximum consumption of a utility’s consumers), is the amount of power that a utility has to provide—no matter the circumstances. In Montana, this level of power is maintained through a wide portfolio of sources: hydroelectric, coal, solar, and wind, but only around 35-45% of this baseline power (according to Joshua Sizemore, a representative of R-Sen. Steve Daines, and Bob Lake, of the Montana Public Service Commission, respectively), is provided by hydroelectric, the biggest renewable in the state.
So, we need to improve and expand existing renewable energy infrastructure. Our society requires high quantities of reliable electricity at all times, and right now, renewables in Montana cannot provide that. Until renewables are able to maintain that law-required baseline, dropping fossil fuels is infeasible, and we will continue to need them.
by Wyatt Wright
Money makes the world go 'round. Everybody wants more and nobody has enough. It is inherently the highest concern for businesses, whose actions are regulated by markets more than anything else. In popular consciousness "big business" typically ends up being demonized, sometimes with good reason. The intersection of economics and any other issues often sparks contentious debate. For example, Roger Koopman from the Public Service Commission claims that government incentives for renewable energy are negative as they stifle innovation while Mike Prater of the Invenergy Judith Gap Wind Farm claims that the production tax credit wind farms are granted makes development much easier.
It's common to hear that conservation and economic development are at odds, that you either pollute and make money or conserve and sacrifice industry. This is not true. Two Dot Ranch preserves the ecological vitality of their land through rotational grazing of their cows. Timeless Seeds incentivizes the growth of lentils which enrich soil and require less water. Sandy Arrow Ranch is a work in progress ranch whose goal is to go "beyond organic" by forgoing chemicals for natural compost, no-till practices, and cover crops. They hope to inspire a revolution in farming through financial success. An organic farm in Egypt growing cotton has had lower costs and improved yields with a steady 14% annual revenue increase and a water bottle plant aiming at water neutrality has an annual growth rate of 25% (Haanaes et al, Making Sustainability Profitable) Businesses centered around sustainability are not only possible, but profitable.
by Wyatt Wright
We cannot view technology as a catch-all solution to climate change. We need to shift our practices, not just our tech. Humanity has accomplished mind-boggling feats such as launching ourselves into space or eradicating diseases. We can thank technology for much of our accomplishments, from simple rock tools to computers and beyond. Technology has made our lives significantly better but it has become a crutch and our reliance on it could mean disaster. In a teleconference meeting with Joshua Sizemore, legislative assistant to Senator Steve Daines, carbon capture and clean coal were emphasized in Senator Daines policy stance. The merits of new, expensive technology was framed as a way to mitigate climate change. Some technology like hydro/aquaponics, no-till farming, and increasingly efficient renewable infrastructure can have a positive impact, but I came away with the impression that future policy is about continuing business as usual and hoping technology solves the problem.
Carbon capture and clean coal have potential to reduce carbon emissions. According to a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change these technologies can reduce carbon emissions by 85-95% per plant. However, depending on how carbon is stored, power plants would require 10 - 160% more energy and heavy economic investment (IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage p. 4) (Global CCS Institute, 1.5.9). Carbon capture could be used in fallback energy plants to combat the inconsistent output of renewable energy but it seems that politicians want to hedge their bets on new technology for old industries.
By Clyde Schulein
Judith Gap Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in Montana. Photo by Kurt Wilson.
JUDITH GAP, Montana --
Wind power utilizes the force of wind to turn turbines, generating clean energy at a relatively low cost. According to the Department of Environmental Quality, Montana is ranked among the top five states in the USA for wind potential. Despite this, the current dominant source of energy for our state is coal power; in fact, wind contributes only 7% of the total energy portfolio for the state (Electricity Information Association). While it is more reliable than wind energy, coal energy is a significant polluter and contributor to climate change (MCA, page 13). Coal energy has a significant environmental cost of $0.058 per kilowatt hour, as compared to the $0.0009 per kilowatt hour of wind (ExternE-Pol, 2004).
With all of these benefits, it is hard to see why wind energy is not more developed in Montana. Issues with the disruption of natural landscapes are trivial in the face of the widespread consequences to nature that other forms of energy will bring through climate change. Studies have shown the perceived impact on birds and bats is less significant than other anthropogenic sources of bird mortality, and functional countermeasures to wildlife harm exist (White, 2016).
With the current state of the technology, wind power is not feasible as a primary source of energy; the daily and seasonal variability in electricity production is simply too great. Future improvements such as energy storage infrastructure could help, but they will take time. Even so, Montana has the potential to increase its wind energy capacity from 720 megawatts to 678,977, and every megawatt that does not come from coal is a small victory in the war on emissions (WINDExchange, Wind Energy Technologies Office).
By Clyde Schulein
A group of several different pulse crops, including peas and lentils. Photo by Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network.
ULM, Montana --
Pulse cropping, the growth of legumes in between seasons of grains, is described by the Montana Department of Agricultulture as a method for farmers to “promote biodiversity, improve soil health, and generate income”. These high-protein crops, typically lentils and chickpeas, allow soil to recover after a season of grain farming by allowing water to build up in the soil, insulating the soil from extreme temperature changes, and fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil, improving growth in the next grain cycle.
Despite the benefits of this agricultural practice, pulse crop availability per capita decreased steadily from 1961 to 2005 and has only recently begun to recover (Joshi et al., 2016). Relatively high prices of these products are prohibitive for many consumers, preventing the widespread incorporation of these nutritional foods into the diets of lower-income people in more developed nations. Furthermore, a lack of agricultural awareness of pulse crop use and benefits prevents the spread of the practice to regions that would benefit. Some countries have successfully implemented pulse crops, with up to 34.5% of protein intake in nations like Rwanda coming from pulses.
By promoting responsible resource use and offering an alternative to traditional meat proteins, pulse crops offer solutions to some of the problems that plague modern agriculture and contribute to severe effects of climate change. Legume production uses 6 times less water per gram of protein than meat production (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010). Though the USA dominates the global trade in pulse crops, we must develop a greater consumer appetite for the crops in order to improve the economic incentive for farmers to use this environmentally beneficial practice.
By Elliott Pryor
HELENA, Montana --
I very much enjoyed our conversation on August 6th. However, I am concerned that a few things may have been overlooked. The PSC website states that your goal is to provide “access to utility services that are affordable, reliable, and sustainable for the long-term.” First, on affordability. Every form of renewable energy available in Montana (including nuclear) is cheaper than that of clean coal plants. In terms of sustainability renewable sources, by definition, are more sustainable than fossil fuel sources. Fossil fuel sources are becoming unpopular in the market and stricter environmental regulations will make it increasingly harder to meet emission requirements. Is it more sustainable to invest in a dying industry, or to invest in a burgeoning one? Wind energy jobs increased by 32% in 2016, so lets start investing now so we can be ahead of the curve. We forget that environmental regulations created the huge demand for our low sulfur coal, so lets transition to wind, and other renewables, so when more environmental regulations come we are prepared to harness our big sky.
Another thing that was mentioned was your laudable goal to drive policy with science, but that climate projections were too inconsistent to be a base of policy. You are right, they are all too conservative... The Montana Climate Assessment shows Montana is warming at almost twice the national average. I already won’t be able to see glaciers in Glacier National Park when I’m 80. These facts are what matter to Montana.
By Elliott Pryor
TWO DOT, Montana --
any ‘anti-environmentalists’ like to think that being an environmentalist is costly, but the fact of the matter is that it can be an advantage. Regenerative agriculture can be used to grow more food, more materials and products, and more profits.
The Sandy Arrow ranch uses a compost ‘tea’ to fertilize their farm without chemicals. The bacteria in the tea help give the plants the nutrients they need to survive creating greater productivity. At the Two Dot ranch, they practice high density grazing, so the cows graze all the grass equally because there isn’t enough of their favourite species to go around and they trample down other grass to make a mulch. This mulch protects the soil, and it’s microbes, so the soil can remain productive to generate more food for more cows.
These projects aren’t about restoring the environment, but about growing more food to make a profit. The Two Dot ranch can sustain higher stocking rates now, than when they started the program, thus allowing them to generate greater income (Two Dot Ranch Tour). The compost tea at the Sandy Arrow ranch will reduce input costs of chemicals by 70%: lowering production costs and supporting higher yields, further increasing revenue.
In many cases, these types of practices aren’t about protecting the environment, but rather using tools that nature has invented and perfected over millennia to generate greater income. Perhaps environmental ideals aren’t the selfless choices... but the selfish ones?
By Madison Haagenson
JUDITH GAP, Montana -- Wind energy is on the rise across America. The United States generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than it did in 2001, providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming. Wind energy offers many advantages, which explains why it’s one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, these advantages include --
By Madison Haagenson
Photo from alivebynature.com
ULM, Montana -- Climate change may seem to many of us a challenge too daunting to tackle directly through our own actions, but there is one small change each of us can do to play our part -- shifting our diets to be healthier and more environmentally sustainable. The type of food we choose to eat makes up a big part of our personal carbon footprint. The meat and dairy that make up 22 percent of developed world diets are responsible for emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Luckily, there is a food group which is highly nutritious, rich in protein and essential micronutrients, with a tiny carbon footprint -- pulses.
Pulses reduce the use of fossil fuels, since they do not require nitrogen fertilizers. As Dave Oien of Timeless Seeds stated, pulses have a unique ability to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, and are able to directly draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into nutrients vital for plant growth.
Lucky for us, in addition to being perfect foods in our fight against climate change, pulses also happen to be delicious and versatile. From falafel and hummus to bean patties, lentil curries, salads and soup, they are easy to incorporate into a part of your daily diet. So, do your part to tackle climate change, one meal at a time.