Montanans want energy that is reliable and affordable. They want to know that the production and consumption of energy isn’t polluting air and water, disturbing wildlife habitat, or contributing to global warming. They want to assist the nation in achieving greater energy independence.
In thinking about energy, it’s important to keep in mind that climate change demands that the nation and the world move towards a low-carbon economy. That means that Montanans, like everybody else in the country, are going to have to figure out ways of meeting their energy needs with less – and eventually much less – fossil fuel.
How can we get the energy we want, in the way we want it, and make the transition to a low-carbon economy, all at the same time? There are two important steps we should take.
The first building block of our energy policy should be the promotion of increased efficiency and conservation. Using less energy more efficiently avoids pollution, reduces energy imports, and saves money.
There are many ways that the state and local governments can help promote efficiency and conservation, ranging from helping familiies to finance investments in home insulation to planning for and providing public transportation. Montana already has some of these programs, and we should look for ways to extend and strengthen them.
The second building block of our energy policy should be to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy resources such as wind, bio-fuels, and biomass. Relying more on these resources means relying less on oil, gas and coal, and reducing our impact on the climate.
What about coal? We all know that coal is a very important source of energy in Montana, the nation and even the world. And we all know as well that burning coal produces large quantities of greenhouse gasses. There is lots of talk about capturing and sequestering those gasses in coal-fired power plants, or converting coal to liquid fuels and capturing at least some of the green house gasses from the conversion process. But at this point the technology and laws and regulations to make sequestration possible don’t exist. The state should support the development of that technology, and put the legal framework in place. But for now, coal development looks like a bad investment in a nation thatmust inevitably move away from fossil fuels, and it can become a good investment only when it can prove that it can survive and prosper in a low-carbon economy.
No new coal-fired power stations or coal-to-liquids plants should be built until a strict cap on greenhouse gas emissions is in place and coal facilities have proven that they can function under that cap.