8/13/2007

Wind...or windy?

The Tribune had an article yesterday about wind vs. coal power. Unlike some commenters, I thought the article was well-balanced and, within the constraints the reporter (or his editor) placed on the piece, he presented both sides.

If I have a criticism of the article, and of course I do (!), the criticism concerns the things the article does not say, or even seem to consider. First, though, let's keep this whole wind power debate in perspective.

How? Start with one reality: the City of Great Falls has no need for a 250 MW plant on its doorstep. In other words, the citizens of this fine community will not be getting their power from this plant, and the needs of the City Government and its bigger, local customers are 16-20 MW. It's fairly disingenuous, then, to approach the wind issue from standpoint of the ability or inability to provide 250 MW of power. Frankly, that is not our problem. It is the problem of SME and its cooperatives. In other words, I don't see the good folks down in Red Lodge bending over backward to build a coal-fired plant in their backyard in order to bail Great Falls out of its power problems.

So, when we consider the "firming" problem mentioned in the article, let's take a relatively simplistic analysis. Let's assume we build a small 40 MW wind farm. When that wind is really cooking out east of town (which, unfortunately, is most of the damn time!), we'll sell that extra 20MW into the Northwest Power grid at spot prices, whatever we can get. Then when the City needs power and the wind isn't blowing, we can use the credits from those sales to 'firm' our supply. Now, I admit that this could work out or not. That's what happens when we try to predict the future. But it doesn't involve our assuming the smoke for a bunch of non-residents, and it doesn't involve our buying into a $720 million dollar investment.

Is that a good analysis or a bad one? I don't really know. I am not an expert. But I did thunk it up in all of about 5 minutes. So don't tell me that there aren't about 10,000 alternatives out there when our demand is but a minuscule portion of this whole project. The idea that we're somehow 'forced' into this rock and a hard place situation is post-decision spin by the the decision-makers.

Now, how about the article?

"Lawton called the claim "ridiculous," saying the price of wind power has risen since 2005, when NorthWestern Energy agreed to buy wind power from Judith Gap for 20 years at about $31 a megawatt hour....

Lawton said the city would be happy to snap up wind power at the old price.

'Will they sell it to us now for $42?' Lawton asked."

The follow-up to this little exchange is an easy one. Ok, Mr. Lawton. There was $31.00 a MWh power available on a 20-year contract back in 2005. Those individuals in charge of making decisions for our city utility, Electric City Power, certainly did not clamor to buy that power, and that price looks pretty good right now, doesn't it? What does that tell us about these individuals' ability to predict the future?

Now we have those same individuals still in charge, and they are predicting the future to this date. Tell me, based on past history, why we should give credence to these predictions? This seems to be the common pattern with City issues: Very Short Memories. VSM disease accounts for the fact that City Administration has struggled with numerous issues (golf courses, water park, Explore! The Big Sky) yet no one seems real skeptical of the "Next Big Thing."

The article goes on to quote Mr. Lawton as stating that the "added the city plans to continue to pursue owning 15 percent of the coal-fired plant." Oh, really? Pursue? Oh, yeah, that's right. We don't have a say in it. SME tells us what we get.

I thought the City was going to own 25 percent of the plant. We have been contributing 25 percent of the start up costs, right? Doesn't this seem like a really good chance for the reporter to explore that whole issue with Mr. Lawton? How does our ownership change when our investment doesn't? Doesn't this really highlight the need for a contract with SME? Should such a contract not be our top priority?

Fortunately for the reader, I do not have time to go through the article in any more detail. I think Mr. Ecke was balanced, but I sure would like to see a bit (or a lot) more skepticism from the Tribune about the statements made by City officials. Do they not allow follow-up questions?

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, sorry about the 'short' break! Your financial model just as sound as anything offered by ECP in last four years...they 'missed the boat' while GE turbines spinning east and west of us...speaking of 'boats', the good ship 'Eletric City' still steaming full speed ahead into the icefield while the
crew is 'shuffling the deck chairs'....

Anonymous said...

1 vote cast for WINDY

Anonymous said...

Saint Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us!

Anonymous said...

What more proof does anyone need regarding the ineptitude, shady business practices and deals, lies, deceit, disregard for representing the citizens and city of GF, as well as heavy-handed tactics on individuals who speak out at meetings by Lawton, Stebbins, Grove and Commissioners?

We have the ability to produce electricity for ourselves and be a self-sustaining city via the abundance of natural hydro, wind, solar energies or harnessing a hybrid of the three. Alternative energy production would create jobs here as well as develop GF into an alternative energy center for the state. We could supply energy itself and/or personnel with the skills, knowledge and materials to set up home & business off-grid systems, full or partial, in the three major fields of alternative energy. Something which is sorely lacking at the moment in this state. All it needs is a little vision, push and people who really want to work and offer quality service, not merely say they want work.

That last statement is due to the fact that you had a blog about a plumber wanting to "come home to GF, but there's no work". There's work here, but only if you respond to your clients, show up for estimates and arranged work dates, don't take excessive personal time off a job, be open when you say you're open and do the job right from start to finish. There are people like that here and they are running very successful businesses. (Either go to work for them, or start your own business.)

GF needs leaders that will look to the future, setting sustainable economic growth while offering sensible, needed services to those outside of our town. Alternative energy development should be something we ask mayoral candidates about. It might just be the thing that makes GF a leader, not a follower, and maintains a livable city for all of us. RN

Anonymous said...

Someone reminded me this weekend that there has been a coal fired plant at Malmstrom for 25 years and nobody has died. Maybe we should close Malmstrom?

I was also somewhat amused by the statement that 7000(?) birds a year are killed by wind power. I wonder what Larry and Stu have to say about that? Collateral damage?

JWC

Anonymous said...

I have plenty to say, but no time right now. I'll be back later. And Gee Guy, good points all. But for now, take a look at Aero's proposal called Repower Montana. And I have some comments at leftinthewest.com too. But www.aeromt.org has their Repower Montana plan in detail. It's worth a read because it's a worthy read. Check it out. RN mentioned vision, and he/she is exactly right! That is something that is SORELY lacking among the city beaurcraps. (sp) (or not) We definitely need people of vision in there now. There are many, many other ways of doing things besides the old king coal way! Montanans ain't buying that crap any longer.

LK

Anonymous said...

In answer to JWC......

"I was also somewhat amused by the statement that 7000(?) birds a year are killed by wind power"

Well JWC, If you drive a vehicle or own a home with windows more bird kills happen with these events than with modern slow moving wind blades on our wind farms.

"Someone reminded me this weekend that there has been a coal fired plant at Malmstrom for 25 years and nobody has died. Maybe we should close Malmstrom?"

Well JWC again you have failed to do your homework. The boilers at Malmstrom are for heating only and they also can operate on natural gas. They are not for electrical production and operate only as needed for heating. Yes, I would like to see our government take the high ground here and operate these boilers strictly on natural gas as they were designed for........

JT

big sky husker said...

I'd rather see the electricity produced by wind, solar or nuclear power... but the biggest reason I don't support the coal plant is the manner in which the city has presented/handled the deal to build the facility. Plus, the city has a piss poor track record handling economic matters (Explore Big Sky, the water parks, the golf courses). My hope is the lawyers/court tie this thing up for so long that it becomes too expensive/difficult to do.

WolfPack said...

We don't “need” a 250MW coal plant and we also don't need 5 fish killing dams on our river or bird killing windmills on our horizon. If need is the measure for evaluating economic development projects the people down at the GFDA can just pack up and go home.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wolfpup, do you REALLY think that this fiasco is "economic development"??? You're kidding, right? Oh, and bout those "fish killing dams", hmmm. Is THAT why I've taken hundreds of fish outta the Missouri below the dams! And, btw, have you REALLY seen lots of dead birds under those windmills?? And one more question. Do you have ANY arguments that aren't silly? Just wonderin'.

LK

GeeGuy said...

Wolfpack, I obviously failed to make my point effectively.

If you're going to consider the viability of wind power in Great Falls under the present circumstances, why do you have to include our provision of power to non-residents? Why is 250 MW a magic number? Heck, let's talk about a wind farm that produces 10,000 MW. Then we can really focus on how unrealistic wind is for our community.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the current turbine wind systems do kill many birds. However, there are new generation wind systems that are lower to the ground, less unsightly and produce more electricity with less wind.

We don't need to continue to use out-of-date and destructive technology of any kind. The entire world is working on this. There are sustainable communities doing extremely well all over the place.

We can stupidly pay out to others for our needs or we can keep the jobs and money at home while creating work within a sustainable community and filling a need for other Montanans.

RN

Anonymous said...

"If a man...make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."
Emerson

WolfPack said...

Geeguy, I don't think it is fair to imply that the proposed coal plant servers no positive purpose other than generation of electricity for GF. Admittedly most of the electricity produced will service customers out of the area same as the pasta plant, refinery, malting plant, Avmax, Cable Technologies, Prairie Kraft Specialties (KOA cabins) etc… The city of GF doesn’t to a large extent need any of the products produced by these industries but the jobs certainly benefit our citizens. All of these industries leave an environmental foot print on our community and have been deemed legal businesses by the regulatory agencies involved as has the coal plant. If individuals don’t think our environmental laws are strict enough then lobby our state and national legislature to change them and get rid of all coal plants but be prepared with a viable alternative and wind power is not it. I thought the Trib did a good job of explaining why wind because of it’s variability can only be part of an energy portfolio. If you accept the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow how can we seriously entertain the idea of becoming dependant on it as our main source of power? Last July GF had record temperatures, record electricity use and below average wind; see the problem?

mary jolley said...

Mr. Wolfpack
You wrote, "Admittedly most of the electricity produced will service customers out of the area same as the pasta plant, refinery, malting plant, Avmax, Cable Technologies, Prairie Kraft Specialties (KOA cabins) etc…"
What part of the development costs did I as a tax payer put up to assist the above. How much do I own.
Every city, except GF, votes before the entrance into "public power."
Nov. 1, 2005 present commissioners voted to erase/repeal any reference to our right to vote before any money was spent by the city on the plant.
If the city had not been involved I would have never have become involved. Really. Truely.

GeeGuy said...

"pasta plant, refinery, malting plant, Avmax, Cable Technologies, Prairie Kraft Specialties (KOA cabins) etc"

Pretty sure, though, Wolfpack, that the City did not contribute 25% of their startup expenses.

That being said, though, you raise some fair points. I am afraid that I am so soured on the whole ECP process, and the public's being shut out of it, that some of the economic development wind is outta my sails...

Anonymous said...

Wolfpup says his aforementioned industries also leave a "footprint". Sorry, but that's just plain DUMB! I'm begining to wonder if he's ever SEEN a coal fired generator! Maybe he should take a ride on the space shuttle. Why, you ask? Well, because there are only a few manmade objects observable from space. One is the great wall of China, and the other coal fired plants in the southwest! Now, maybe wolfpup has such good eyes that he'll be able to see the KOA cabins, cause hey, according to wofly, a footprint is a footprint! Sheesh. Too easy.

LK

Anonymous said...

p.s. The other thing that I've never been able to understand is the alacrity with which some are willing to inflict illness and bodily harm on others in the name of "economic development"! I don't understand that mentality! Sumthin' real sick about them kinda people. What gives a guy the right to damage another man's health? Can there possilby exist a better definition of abject greed? I don't think so. And let's be clear. I know I've said it many times before, but the health effects of a power plant are NOT theoretical. They are VERIFIABLE! They are REAL! Now, the plant supporters can claim all day long that it is "one of the cleanest", but that means nothing! It's still a giant meth lab! I will happily provide a downwind assessment of the health effects of Coalstrip. They are real! So, if you're going to posion people, you should at LEAST allow them opportuntiy to vote on it. Talk about a basic, inherent right! Everyone downwind should have a say in the matter. Like it or not, that is what the Montana Constitution says. Everyone is entitled to a "clean and healthful" environment. Breathe neurotoxins and particulate matter is NOT a clean and healthful environment! And the Constitution trumps economic development.

LK

Anonymous said...

What was written: We have the ability to produce electricity for ourselves and be a self-sustaining city via the abundance of natural hydro, wind, solar energies or harnessing a hybrid of the three.

Wolfpack writes: I thought the Trib did a good job of explaining why wind because of it’s variability can only be part of an energy portfolio. If you accept the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow how can we seriously entertain the idea of becoming dependant on it as our main source of power?

In these posts wind was not suggested as the sole source of alternative energy. You missed the point.

Hybrid energy uses a combination of two or more sources to insure continued production. We have all three at our disposal, a rare occurrence which we should develop.

RN

WolfPack said...

Geeguy/Mary Jolley, I can't argue the city mismanagement angle, mostly because you’re right. If quality management and public approval were granted though, I don't see any problem with the city being involved since there is no competitive private entity that I’m aware of impacted. I was just a little annoyed by wind power being touted as the solution to all our problems when it has such obvious limitations as a reliable community power source.

GeeGuy said...

Which is one of my points, Wolfpack. The whole wind article was written as though the coal plant will be a community power source.

It won't.

WolfPack said...

Agreed, the idea that the city is sourcing us cheap electricity is just a cheesy marketing trick. Below market priced electricity will just lead to waste (people need full priced electricity as incentive to turn off unused lights). There probably is some value to prospective GF energy intensive industry for price stability which isn’t the same as cheap electricity. That’s where ECP falls apart for me, they seem to think selling at a loss from day one is good business. As a potential “price sensitive” customer when you lock into a long term rate it doesn’t have to be at below market just guaranteed not to go up. The real benefit to the GF community would be taxes, wages and ancillary business revenues not cheap power for the masses.

Anonymous said...

Taxes? Tee hee. You're kidding, right, wolf? How much do you think we would garner in taxes from that plant? Give it your best shot. And you're right. We "masses" are just WASTING electricity out here!..........you wouldn't wanna pay my lectric bill, would ya?

LK

Anonymous said...

The question I have is are we really dealing with incompetents within city government or cold calculating criminals?

Anonymous said...

We're dealing with incompetent, cold calculating criminals within the city government

Anonymous said...

Cold, calculating? Maybe.

Weak-minded, ill-educated. Possibly.

Either way city commissioners are carefully leading us down the broad path.

Anonymous said...

On Mary Jolley's point of the city's revoking our right to vote...

I searched the city website and could not find adequate information so wondered if GeeGuy has information in anything he obtained from the city?


14 pages contain "2861":

[PDF] Ordinance 2861 to Establish Electric Utility - second read
... 2861 to Establish Electric Utility second read
ORDINANCE 2861 AN ORDINANCE AMENDING TITLE 5, OCCGF, TO INCLUDE CHAPTER 20 AUTHORIZING THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE AN ELECTRIC UTILITY AND TO MARKET ELECTRIC POWER SERVICE TO CONSUMERS WITHIN THE CITY OF GREAT...
... Falls, Montana, do hereby certify that the foregoing Ordinance 2861 was placed on its final passage and passed by the Commission of the City of Great Falls, Montana, at a meeting thereof held on the 7th day of October, 2003, and...
... law and as prescribed and directed by the Commission, Ordinance 2861 of the City of Great Falls, in three conspicuous places within the limits of said City to wit: On the Bulletin Board, first floor, Civic Center Building On the Bulletin Board...

OCCCGF Title 5 Chapter 20

This page contains Title 5 of the Official City Codes

... 2861, 2003) 5.20.020 Definitions For the purposes of this ordinance, and in addition to the words and terms defined elsewhere in this ordinance, the following words and terms shall have...
... 2861, 2003) 5.20.030 Establishment of municipal electric utility In the exercise of the self governing powers contained in its Charter and pursuant to applicable law, the City does hereby establish a...
... 2861, 2003) 5.20.040 Organization of Electric City Power, Inc. The organization and incorporation of the Corporation pursuant to the Nonprofit Act is hereby authorized and approved. The Articles of...
... 2861, 2003) 5.20.050 Purpose of the corporation The Corporation shall own, operate and manage the municipal electric utility and shall operate for the primary purpose of securing and providing reliable,...
... 2861, 2003) 5.20.060 Powers of the corporation; limitations The Corporation shall have and exercise all powers conferred pursuant to the Nonprofit Act and its Articles of Incorporation that are necessary or...
... 2861, 2003) 5.20.070 Rates The Board of Directors of the Corporation shall from time to time consider and recommend rates and charges for electricity supply and other services provided by the Corporation...
. . .

***I HOPE PEOPLE WILL READ THIS - IT IS ITEM 4 - AND LOOK WHO SPOKE UP FOR THE PLANT**** Commission Minutes October 7, 2003
Minutes of the October 7, 2003 Great Falls City Commission Meeting
... ORDINANCE 2861, AMENDING TITLE 5, OCCGF, TO INCLUDE CHAPTER 20, AUTHORIZING
THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE AN ELECTRIC UTILITY AND TO MARKET ELECTRIC POWER SERVICE TO CONSUMERS Staff...
... 2861 City Manager John Lawton reported that this proposed ordinance would allow the City to establish an electric utility. The ordinance was general in nature, allowing the City to enter the business of...
... seconded by Commissioner Beecher, that the City Commission adopt Ordinance 2861 as amended on final reading. Mayor Gray stated that while this ordinance was not slated for a public hearing, he would entertain comments from the public. Those speaking in support of...

Commission Minutes September 2, 2003
Minutes of the September 2, 2003
Great Falls City Commission Meeting
... 2861, authorizing the City of Great Falls to establish and operate an electric utility and to market electric power services. Accepted on first reading and set final reading for October 7, 2003....
... ORDINANCE 2861, AUTHORIZING THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE AN ELECTRIC UTILITY AND TO MARKET ELECTRIC POWER SERVICES. Staff Report 9 Ord. 2861 City Manager John Lawton reported that...
... seconded by Commissioner Beecher, that the City Commission accept Ordinance 2861 on first reading and set final reading for October 7, 2003. Motion carried 5-0. Res. 9328, Assessing the BID 10. RESOLUTION 9328 ASSESSING BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT...

[PDF] Agenda Report for Ordinance to Establish Electric Utility

... 2861, Amending Title 5, OCCGF,
to include Chapter 20, Authorizing the City of Great Falls to Establish and Operate an Electric Utility and to Market Electric Power Service to Consumers John W...
... 2861 on final reading INITIATED BY ACTION REQUESTED PRESENTED BY John W. Lawton, City Manager RECOMMENDATION: reading. MOTION: It is recommended that the City Commission adopt Ord. 2861 as amended...
... 2861 as amended on final reading. SYNOPSIS: This is a proposed ordinance to allow the City to establish an electric utility. The ordinance is general in nature, allowing the City to enter...
... 2861 on final reading to include: a finding of electricity service in the best interests of the City; and, a more detailed description of bond financing. BACKGROUND: This proposal will position...

[PDF] Res 9506 Street light policy.doc
... LIGHT DISTRICTS WHEREAS, the City of Great Falls adopted Ordinance 2861 on October 7, 2003
establishing a municipal electric utility (Electric City Power); and WHEREAS, Electric City Power is currently supplying electric power to all city facilities and the street light...

[PDF] 090203_09.pdf

... 2861, Amending Title 5, OCCGF, to include Chapter 20,
Authorizing the City of Great Falls to Establish and Operate an Electric Utility and to Market Electric Power Service to Consumers. John...
... 2861 on first reading and set final reading for October 7, 2003 INITIATED BY ACTION REQUESTED PRESENTED BY John W. Lawton, City Manager RECOMMENDATION: It is recommended that the City Commission accept...
... 2861 on first reading and set final reading for October 7, 2003. MOTION: 2003. I move the City Commission accept Ord. 2861 on first reading and set final reading for October...

[PDF] untitled
... IN FISCAL YEAR 2005 Electric Utility The City Commission passed Ordinance 2861 on October 7, 2003.
The ordinance authorized the City of Great Falls to establish and operate an electric utility and to market electric power services in Great Falls. We began serving customers...

Ordinances
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/records/ordinances/index.htm
Ordinances acted upon by the Great Falls City Commission since April of 2001
... 2861 AN ORDINANCE AMENDING TITLE 5, OCCGF, TO INCLUDE CHAPTER 20 AUTHORIZING THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE AN ELECTRIC UTILITY AND TO MARKET ELECTRIC POWER SERVICE TO CONSUMERS WITHIN THE...

[PDF] 03mangmsg.pdf
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/people_offices/fiscal/budget/budget05/03mangmsg.pdf
... Electric Utility The City Commission passed Ordinance 2861 on October 7, 2003. The ordinance authorized the City of Great Falls to establish and operate an electric utility and to market electric power services in Great Falls. The Commission's priority is...

[PDF] untitled
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/records/resolutions/res9534.pdf
... 2861, the City created Electric City Power to market and provide electric services to customers within the City in an effort to assure its business and residents of a steady supply of electrical energy and...

[PDF] TRANSMIT04.doc
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/people_offices/fiscal/cafr/cafr2004/lettransmit.pdf
... 3 Future Initiatives The City Commission passed Ordinance 2861 on October 7, 2003. The ordinance authorized the City of Great Falls to establish and operate an electric utility and to market electric power services in Great Falls. The Commission's priority is...

*****[PDF] ord2925.pdf
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/records/ordinances/ord2925.pdf">
... Ordinance 2861 is hereby repealed.


BUT THIS IS INTERESTING....
******Section 2: OCCGF 5.20 pertaining to establishing and operating an electric utility is hereby enacted to read in its entirety as set forth in Exhibit A. PASSED AND ADOPTED...

[PDF] 03notes.pdf
http://www.ci.great-falls.mt.us/people_offices/fiscal/cafr/cafr2003/03notes.pdf
... In October 2003, the Commission passed Ordinance 2861 authorizing the City to establish an electric utility. The ordinance provides the City with a broad grant of authority related to electric utility supply, distribution, transmission and generation services. A $...

a-fire-fly said...

Anon: ordinance 2925. You have it listed. search here and on Gfirefly for "right to vote" or something similar. We have written about it, and we have links.

Anonymous said...

There are city government links and documentation to the specific language on the Commissioners vote to repeal the public right to vote?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Balzarini, I have a question.

Fiscal Services Director Coleen Balzarini stated that the City has used this funding mechanism in the past. She added that the City must meet certain criteria which included: the dollar amount of the bonds must be less than 10 percent of the last two budgets; and the debt service must be less than 2 percent of the revenues. She said these bonds would not increase taxes and the City would be reimbursed once financing for the construction of the plant is in place.

So if the financing for the construction of the plant doesn't happen does that mean the City won't be reimbursed?

Anonymous said...

How can money be refunded when it has already been paid to the devil?

The devil is really is in the details!

a-fire-fly said...

Well, since GG is slacking, I'll try to answer a couple questions.

Anon 9:49 "There are city government links and documentation to the specific language on the Commissioners vote to repeal the public right to vote?" There are posts specific to the issues you question, and there are links. You will need to look.
Anon 10:24 "So if the financing for the construction of the plant doesn't happen does that mean the City won't be reimbursed?" I believe the City stated that ECP would reimburse the City, out of sales from existing power contracts, or the City can use economic development funds to repay the $2,000,000.00.

Anonymous said...

I looked online and don't see the documented language revoking the citizens right to vote.