Colstrip’s wind farm opposition is misguided

Friday, August 30, 2019

It was disappointing earlier this month when the Colstrip City Council held a special meeting to make their opposition to a tax abatement for the massive, multi-million dollar Clearwater Wind Farm project that will span three counties.

The resolution adopted by the council with Mayor John Williams, Jolene Verfaic, Pat Campbell and Greg Koczur voting for it, cites the potential adverse effect on county finances as their justification for opposing the project. They go on to suggest the matter be put before voters of Rosebud County in a special election.

The Colstrip City Council’s concern for the impact on county finances doesn’t seemed to be shared by the bodies that actually govern those counties and are responsible for providing services to their residents and managing the finances. County commissioners in both Rosebud and Custer counties have publicly spoken positively about the project’s potential.

And why not? Multi-million dollar investors are not lining up to pour their money into southeastern Montana. Construction of this project alone will provide tens of millions of dollars to local contractors and workers, much of which will be circulated in our communities. The commissioners know a good deal when they see it.

Could it be that Colstrip Council’s concern is not so much about the county’s checkbook as it is political pandering to coal workers in their community whose livelihoods are threatened by cheaper, cleaner sources of energy?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Politicians are supposed to champion what’s good for the constituents. Be that as it may, it is misguided to conflate the issues. One has little to nothing to do with the other.

The future of coal is going to be unaffected by the proposed wind farm. The steep decline of coal in recent years, and that which will continue to drive it down in the future, is not wind farms; it’s not solar energy; it’s not even the environmental issues surrounding coal (though all those will become more impactful in the future). It’s cheap, accessible natural gas that has caused the decline of coal.

The fracking processes has opened vast sources of natural gas, the costs of which to “mine” are a fraction of what it costs to get coal out of the ground. All those pipelines crisscrossing the country are not transporting wind.

When Colstrip’s economic lifeblood came under threat with announcement of the sooner-than-expected closings of Colstrip Units 1&2, the community, and much of the state, including state officials, rallied to the community’s cause. Efforts were made to halt the closure through new deals and legislation. Walk around Forsyth and you can still see “Colstrip United” signs.

With that being the case, it’s a shame that city council members have opted to try to undermine a project that would bring jobs and revenue to those communities that rallied to Colstrip’s side.

The hearts of everyone go out to those in Colstrip who have lost or soon may lose their livelihoods and many people who do not call Colstrip home have worked to stop that from happening. However, opposing the Clearwater Wind Farm is not going to lift the economic prospects of those folks nor the community of Colstrip.

— The Independent Press