Cutting Carbon Pollution Can Drive Montana's Economy While Improving Health


This blog was guest-written by NRDC Fellow Amanda Levin

A new factsheet released by the NRDC today highlights the huge economic and health benefits of clean energy for Montana. Investments in clean energy have and will continue to create new jobs, expand the economy, reduce pollution, lower electricity bills, and improve public and environmental health across the state.

The Opportunity

One way for Montana to build on its clean energy potential is through the U.S. EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce harmful pollution from power plants, which account for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. States will have great flexibility in complying with their emissions limits and can design a plan that accounts for each state's unique economic situation and needs. Investing in energy efficiency and renewable wind and solar power should be a fundamental part of Montana's strategy, as a new NRDC fact sheet issued today shows. Ramping up energy efficiency and renewable energy investments can create more than 274,000 new jobs across the U.S. while saving American households and businesses over $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020.

Both emissions-free renewable energy and energy efficiency programs are low-cost options for Montana to reduce pollution while building its economy. Wind and solar energy are now cost-competitive with more traditional fossil-fuel energy nationally. And Montana has some of the best wind and solar resources in the country.

Tapping into Montana's Natural Resources

Consider that as recently as 2005, the state had no installed wind energy production. But just last year, Montana generated enough wind energy to power 200,000 households for an entire year. That's enough electricity to keep the lights on for close to half of the state's households. Meanwhile, Montana's wind generation has more than doubled in the last five years, alone, and is still rapidly growing.

Renewable energy has been a smart choice for Montanans. Wind energy is one of the lowest cost resources in the portfolio of NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity to two-thirds of the state. In addition, wind installations have:

  • Brought over $1.3 billion in new investment to the state,
  • Created over 1,300 high-paying construction jobs and several dozen permanent jobs,
  • Contributed over $8 million in tax revenue annually, and
  • Paid rural landowners $2 million annually in land lease payments.

Montana also has a small, but rapidly growing, number of solar installations. In fact, rooftop solar installations have grown by almost 330% in the last five years - with a 200% change between 2011 and 2012 alone. The open farmland and high-energy needs of Montana's farms are ideal for solar energy and can provide farmers with significant economic benefits.

Smarter energy use

Energy efficiency is another effective way to reduce emissions while growing the economy because smarter energy use lessens the need to generate electricity from fossil fuel-fired power plants that pollute our air and harm our health.

And helping people optimize their energy use through such programs as weatherization or rebates for highly efficient appliances costs far less than building new power plants, and is often even cheaper than operating existing power plants. Some of Montana's utilities already run energy efficiency programs. Over five years, NorthWestern Energy's program resulted in a net benefit of $78 million in reduced utility bills for its customers. For every dollar spent on the programs, customers received $3.70 in benefits.

By just maintaining utility energy efficiency program spending and savings at current levels between 2017 and 2030, the state estimates that Montanans would save $650 million on their bills and create an additional 375 jobs.

And expanding energy efficiency investments to achieve twice as much energy efficiency savings as Montana currently does would result in even greater economic benefits, with additional customer bill savings of over $1 billion and the creation of another 530 jobs possible.

The future is now

Montana's energy future rests in its hands. The Clean Power Plan will let Montana chart a path toward pollution reduction. A smart, effective, and forward-looking state plan to meet Montana's emissions targets will reduce market barriers to - and create new incentives for - clean energy development. The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for the Treasure State to grow its economy and more fully develop its renewable natural resources in order to create the foundation for a Montana for future generations to call home.