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While I appreciate the Bozeman Chronicle editorial board encouraging voters to learn about Montana’s energy issues, the opinion, “Solar ruling takes state in right direction,” erroneously states that NorthWestern Energy, who serves customers primarily with hydro and wind, is biased against alternative forms of energy. With our investment in Montana’s hydro systems, over 61% of the energy we generate in Montana is carbon free. NorthWestern Energy’s balanced energy portfolio in Montana includes more wind resources than either coal or natural gas.

The statement that more solar power will help wean the state of coal-fired power is incomplete. The rolling black outs in California last month were ordered because peak energy demand during a heat wave occurred as solar generation was decreasing. California’s energy portfolio relies heavily on solar and there was concern about having enough energy to continue to operate the grid reliably.

NorthWestern Energy is working hard in Montana to build a portfolio that is diversified and balanced, so we do not end up in the same position as California. The stakes are too high to experience blackouts in Montana when it is 40 below zero.

Variable energy sources, such as solar and wind, can’t keep the heat on in the dark or if the wind isn’t blowing, unless and until there is a storage option to tap that energy when it is needed. Until technology develops to store energy affordably for the long lengths of time we need in Montana, we will continue to need capacity resources for safe, reliable and affordable service when it is needed most.

In order to continue to add more variable energy generation to Montana’s energy portfolio, we need additional capacity resources too for grid reliability. Capacity resources are those that can be called upon in an on-demand basis, 24/7.

The Chronicle opinion fails to include that the Montana Consumer Counsel, established in the Montana Constitution to advocate on behalf of the interests of consumers of regulated utilities before the Montana Public Service Commission, also asked the Montana Supreme Court to review the District Court ruling in this case. The issue before the Montana PSC and the courts is about the rates customers will pay to private solar energy developers. NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Consumer Council are aligned on this issue, working to keep energy service affordable for Montanans.

NorthWestern Energy’s 1,220 employees in Montana are members of the more than 208 communities where we provide energy service. We focus on keeping our customer rates as low as possible: our electric rates are currently 10.48 % below the national average and our natural gas rates are 27.62 % below the national average.

I absolutely agree that the Montana Public Service Commission is a critically important race for Montana voters to spend time learning about before they cast their ballots. Energy policy affects Montanans’ homes, communities, businesses, economy and almost every other aspect of our lives.

Heather Bellamy is the community relations manager for NorthWestern Energy.

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