Big Sky Connection
June 30, 2017
HELENA, Mont. - National parks in Montana and across the country expect big crowds as Americans celebrate the Fourth of July and summer rolls on.
But public-lands advocates are concerned about the combination of park maintenance backlogs that now total more than $11 billion - and plans to slash the National Park Service budget by nearly $400 million.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has suggested privatizing campgrounds to help make up the shortfall. But Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, an energy-development watchdog group, says privatizing of government services usually leads to higher costs.
"It is in the interest of the private concessionaire to make as much money as they can," he says. "And when a lot of people are visiting these parks, they could probably afford to charge a pretty penny."
National parks, including Glacier National Park, set record highs for attendance last year. Saeger says hiking the costs to visit them will close parks off to some Americans.
The Trump Administration has also suggested opening up public lands to more oil and gas development, to boost national parks' coffers. Saeger disagrees that this would help.
"It is irresponsible to give free rein to oil and gas companies and special interests to develop these lands for profit, while at the same time making it harder for ordinary Americans to access an important part of our national heritage," he explains.
Saeger says private companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of public lands. They simply aren't acting on them because of historically low oil prices. He says the idea that lands in the West are closed off to fossil fuel development is false.
June 30, 2017
HELENA, Mont. – The Montana Public Service Commission voted today to authorize a 10-year power purchase agreement for a proposed 80-megawatt solar farm near Billings at a rate of roughly $20 per megawatt hour. NorthWestern Energy would buy the power under the terms of the contract.
Federal law requires utilities to purchase generation from independent power producers like MTSUN LLC at what it would otherwise cost the utility to purchase the energy and capacity provided by the facility. If a utility and a developer are unable to agree on a price and contract terms, the law requires the PSC to step in.
“The law does not allow the commission to incentivize one form of energy over another,” said Commissioner Tony O’Donnell, R-Billings. “Our charge is to set the price at a level that is neutral to the ratepayer.”
The Commission’s ruling on Thursday was largely consistent with its decision last week.
In limiting contracts to 10 years, the Commission agreed with the Montana Consumer Counsel (MCC), which argued that the PSC should protect customers from the “excessive risk” of long-term contracts.
MCC economist Jamie Stamatson argued that the methodology used to calculate a price within a 25-year contract was too speculative. In testimony submitted to the Commission, he said the Commission should instead rely on “established forward strip prices, where market participants have made actual transactions based on their expectations of future prices.”
Like it did last week, the Commission also voted to impose symmetrical treatment on other resources of NorthWestern. In related news, on Wednesday, NorthWestern announced that it is suspending a solicitation targeted primarily at natural gas assets. That process had called for 20-year contracts at a minimum.
“Customers should not be paying for things they do not need,” said Vice Chairman Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls. “Whether it is solar or gas, the Commission is questioning the wisdom of locking customers into a decades-long arrangement at a time when the market is already oversupplied.”
The Commission also decided to eliminate a carbon price adder from rates paid to MTSUN, citing a shift in federal policy related to carbon emissions.
“A price on carbon dioxide is more unlikely now, than ever, and customers shouldn’t be on the hook for carbon costs that may never materialize,” said Commissioner Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman.
To view the full docket, visit: http://bit.ly/2sliBxw
June 27, 2017
Billings, MT – Hosted by the Yellowstone Art Museum–Summerfair is the region’s largest arts and crafts festival featuring the best artisans, craftspeople, and entertainers in the area. More than 90 artists, community groups, and food vendors will participate in the YAM’s 39th Annual Summerfair at Veterans Park, 13th Street West & Poly Drive, next to Rocky Mountain College. This exciting event attracts more than 10,000 people and is a wonderful way to share the joy of art with friends and family while supporting the museum’s education programs and yearly operating costs.
Admission for Summerfair is $3 for adults, FREE for children 12 and under.
A new Summerfair Eve Friday evening event will begin the Summerfair weekend featuring live music by The Max, playing from 5-9 p.m.
Artist booths at Summerfair include painting, pottery, art from nature, glass, wood, metal, fiber art, photography, body products, and artisan foods. Summerfair is a great place to find that unique gift for yourself or someone special while supporting the Billings Community.
This year, Summerfair will have artist demonstrations and entertainment beginning at 10 am. All weekend, you can visit the Prairie Hand Spinners at the demonstration booth to see the age-old craft of wool being spun into yarn. Watch the progression of graffiti art by Underground Culture Krew. View the work of world-renowned wood carver Nick Lamb. Billings Arts Association’s Plein Air artists will be showing the art of painting from life and much more.
Saturday on the entertainment stage enjoy performances by the Billings Youth Orchestra Fiddlers, Spiral Skies Bellydance, Chris and the Side Guys and more. On Sunday enjoy performances by Ryan Kabeary, Broadway Dance Studio, Mojo and more. NOVA: Center for the Performing Arts will be doing a performance from School of Rock on Saturday and Sunday.
You and your children can enjoy and learn about art with hands-on art activities. Participate both Saturday and Sunday in the fun, free art projects under the Children’s Art Activity Tent.
When you’re ready to eat, Summerfair has a fantastic food court with hotdogs and burgers, gyros, crepes, lemonade, kettle corn, snow cones, and more. All proceeds from refreshments purchased at the Beer and Wine Garden and Refreshments tents will benefit the Yellowstone Art Museum. So come on down and enjoy this fantastic event the whole family can enjoy!
For more information visit http://www.artmuseum.org/special-events/summerfair/
June 26, 2017
MONTANA - As you plan your 4th of July festivities, please remember to be “Fire Smart”. Take care not to spark an unwanted wildfire.…even the smallest spark has the potential to cause significant damage.
While the grass and vegetation in western Montana looks green and lush the threat of wildfire is still a possibility. Matt Hall, Southwestern Land Office Fire Management Officer for the MT Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation states, “While the recent moisture has assisted in keeping the wildfire risk at moderate, grasses are getting dryer, taking precautions when working outdoors and recreating is still important”.
- Never leave a campfire unattended and be sure the coals are cold to the touch before leaving.
- Make sure safety chains, when towing, do not drag, causing sparks.
- Remember that vehicles parked or driven in tall grass can start a fire.
Fireworks are prohibited on state and federal lands; some counties and cities may have bans on fireworks, campfires and open burning. Please check with local officials to see if bans are in place in your area.
Do your part this holiday weekend to prevent human-caused fires. One Less Spark, Means One Less Wildfire!
Visit www.keepgreen.org/resources.html for all your One Less Spark One Less Wildfire prevention resources including equipment fire and 4th of July prevention messages.
May 31, 2017
HELENA, Mont. – Havre Pipeline Company may not abandon service to its rural natural gas customers without first obtaining permission of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC), a Montana District Court has ruled.
Havre Pipeline and its parent NorthWestern Energy had gone to court seeking to overturn a March 2016 PSC order that held that farm taps are a public utility service and not an unregulated contract that could be abandoned at the companies’ sole discretion. Farm taps take gas directly from northern Montana’s system of gathering lines to serve rural homes and agricultural operations.
Judge Yvonne Laird’s ruling, issued last Friday, granted the PSC’s and Montana Consumer Counsel’s joint motion to dismiss the utility’s lawsuit. Judge Laird ruled that an identical matter had been litigated in a 1995 proceeding, and that duplicative litigation such as the companies’ lawsuit was barred by a legal doctrine known as “issue preclusion.”
PSC representatives welcomed the ruling. “This is only the latest in a pattern of frivolous litigation by NorthWestern Energy,” said Travis Kavulla, (R-Great Falls). “The judge clearly saw it for what it was.”
“Unfortunately, while NorthWestern attorneys have tied this matter up in court, some customers have experienced declining pressures off of farm taps that have led to an effective abandonment of service,” Kavulla said.
Commission Chairman Brad Johnson, (R-East Helena) said, “This decision underscores the depth of legal expertise at the Commission and the sound basis upon which we form our decisions. It also reaffirms the important principle that public utilities are required to provide reasonably adequate service at just and reasonable rates.”
In the past, when customers served by farm taps have lost service due to declining production at nearby gas wells, utilities have offered a free conversion to propane service and a certain time allowance of propane supply at the price of natural gas.
To view Judge Laird’s decision, visit: http://psc.mt.gov/news/pr/2017pr/PSCvHavreDismissal.pdf
For PSC updates please follow us on twitter @MT_PSC, and “like” our Facebook page Montana PSC
Made up of five elected commissioners, the PSC works to ensure that Montanans receive safe and reliable service from regulated public utilities while paying reasonable rates. Utilities regulated by the PSC generally include private investor-owned natural gas, electric, telephone, water, and sewer companies. In addition, the PSC regulates certain motor carriers, and oversees natural gas pipeline safety and intrastate railroad safety.