Monday, March 04, 2024
36.0°F

Columbia River settlement threatens Montana's economic stability

by Todd O’Hair
| December 27, 2023 12:00 AM

At the Montana Chamber of Commerce, we are deeply concerned by recent developments in federal energy policies that threaten our state’s power supply and economic vitality.

Our concerns are centered around the consequences of secret commitments recently made by the U.S. government through a closed-door negotiation over the Columbia River hydropower system. 

Behind those closed doors, decisions with far-reaching consequences were made— a process that will increase electricity costs for the nearly 150,000 homes and businesses in western Montana who rely on those federal hydroelectric dams and has the potential to jeopardize the reliability of our electrical grid.

The decisions made today on the future viability of those hydro projects will have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of these Montanans. Alarmingly, the State of Montana and its business and resident public power ratepayers, who will bear the brunt of these decisions, were sidelined in what should have been an inclusive process.

 The gravity of this responsibility cannot be overstated and we, as the Montana Chamber of Commerce, refuse to turn a blind eye to the potential disenfranchisement of our communities. A sustainable energy future requires the input and collaboration of all stakeholders, and we urge our elected officials to ensure that the voices of Montana businesses and communities are heard.

At the heart of the matter is the delicate balance between ecological stewardship and economic vitality. The Pacific Northwest, a cornerstone of the nation’s energy production, now faces policy shifts that threaten the very backbone of our affordable, reliable and carbon-free hydropower. Access to stable hydropower has helped drive economic prosperity and development in Western Montana. Businesses in this region not only contribute to the economic fabric of the state, but they also play a crucial role in serving some of the region’s most vulnerable populations. 

This recent action could impose significant substantial burdens on Montana’s businesses and communities, potentially pushing electricity costs beyond the means of our local industries and negatively impacting their competitiveness on a national scale.

The reliability of our electric grid is paramount to the functioning of businesses and the overall well-being of our communities. These dams not only provide the backbone of our existing economy, but they provide a foundation for the incorporation of future energy resources like wind and solar by providing low cost, baseload energy this is stable and predictable. We must tread cautiously to maintain a balance that ensures a stable and dependable power supply for our citizens and businesses.

This is not a partisan issue; it is a bipartisan concern for Montanans who rely on affordable and reliable power to sustain their homes and businesses. It is time for all of us, regardless of political affiliation, to come together for the sake of our state’s prosperity and the well-being of our citizens.

The U.S. Government’s secret commitments are set to be finalized on or before December 15.  Time is of the essence. We call upon Montana elected officials to champion an inclusive dialogue, one that echoes the concerns and insights of all key stakeholders. Striking a balance between environmental stewardship and economic viability is imperative, and we advocate for a collaborative approach that safeguards our state’s economic health and reliable power supply.

Together, we can chart a course that ensures a bright and sustainable future for Montana.

Todd O’Hair is president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Recent Headlines