Article published Oct 1, 2007
City election candidates Q&A
By RICHARD ECKE
Tribune Staff Writer
Voters will select a mayor and two city commissioners in a city general election set for Nov. 6
Article published Oct 8, 2007
Candidates split on Highwood Generating Station
By RICHARD ECKE
Tribune Staff Writer
Great Falls Tribune reader Doyle Hext has a question that's on plenty of people's minds.
"I would like to know which candidate supports the Highwood plant," Hext wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper, referring to the proposed coal-fired power plant east of Great Falls.
It turns out several candidates for City Commission and mayor support the plant, two don't and others are skeptical. One favors the plant but not the city's involvement in it.
All in all, candidates for City Commission appear to be just as sharply divided about the proposed Highwood Generating Station as area residents.
The city election takes place Nov. 6. All voters in Great Falls must vote at one polling place, the Exhibition Hall at Montana ExpoPark, or obtain an absentee ballot.
On the Highwood issue, Mayor Dona Stebbins and commission candidates Diane Jovick-Kuntz, Bill Bronson and Elna Hensley firmly back the coal-fired power plant project. Stebbins and Jovick-Kuntz are incumbents.
Opposing the plant are mayoral candidate Ed McKnight and commissioner candidate Stuart Lewin.
Other candidates are skeptical about the plant or object to a lack of a public vote on the project.
Commissioner candidate Mary Jolley emphatically opposes the city government's involvement in the plant and argues residents should have been able to cast a vote on the issue.
Commissioner candidate Michael Winters said he opposes the plant in its current form, but might support the plant if its technology were improved.
Mayoral candidate Susan Kahn said she believes in the right of residents to vote on whether they want the plant.
Mayoral candidate Larry H. Steele supports the power plant but not the city's involvement in it.
This week's two questions are:
A. Do you support the Highwood Generating Station project and why?
B. Do you support the city's involvement in the project?
COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES (two spots open)
A. I agree with what Tim Gregori told the Associated Press in an article in the Great Falls Business monthly — everything is on hold until the lawsuits are settled. The lawsuits will take years. The land is not yet zoned for heavy industry. I am awaiting answers from proponents given under penalty of perjury.
B. Hell no. I would need more financial information than the present commissioners accepted without question. They have approved the expenditure of untold millions, all this without a development agreement. They were presented with an incomplete accounting that would fit on a Post-It, with room to spare. Our city utility arm loses money every time a customer flips a switch.
Contrary to pronouncements of city staff, every other town, small and large, in this country has had a ballot measure prior to creating a public power arm, except us. Consent of the governed has been neglected.
A & B. I support public, renewable power projects improving conservation, developing solar, wind and water electric power. I support joining other cities adopting the Kyoto accords (an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).
I oppose the coal plant whether we own part or not. It wastes Missouri River water; contributes to global warming, air pollution, loss of productive farmland, loss of an important historic landmark; and creates another Superfund site along the Missouri. All this to produce "cost-based power" likely more costly than alternatives.
SME (Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative) obligated city taxpayers to millions as it promoted this very risky venture. The city purchased power on credit from SME, (and) sold it below cost to city customers, while SME and city officials disingenuously touted cheap power as proof of their marketing acumen.
With similar doubletalk they crowed: "this plant would meet all environmental standards", while they lobbied Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the state Legislature for weaker enforcement and weaker laws. And labor thinks it has a firm contract with these folks? Even if a few seemingly profit, most of us will suffer the consequences. Power produced will be used mainly elsewhere: plant pollution deposited here. Coal plants are dirty!
This plant holds us hostage to past consumptive, unsustainable lifestyles, poisons our quality environment, is fiscally irresponsible, and has resulted in government repressing citizens. Now the city and SME rush to bind us to onerous long-term agreements before November elections!
A vote for me is a vote against the coal plant and for unwinding this foolishness if possible!
A. Not in the present phase of presentation. There are too many unanswered concerns.
I support any industry interested in Great Falls, with reservations, that the industry will be up to date with modern technology, benefiting our community, employing local residents, paying a good wage for work well done, and is in compliance with — and friendly with — all environmental standards. No exceptions and no excuses; all concerns of the community being addressed openly. How will the Highwood project impact the average resident's electric bill each month? How will the residents of our community benefit from this project? Who will ultimately pay for the project? What will be the final cost? How will the people and lands downwind be protected? There are better options to explore that are more efficient, less costly and better adjusted to our environmental stewardship obligations. Building a facility 20 years out of date is not sound business practice.
B. The city has utility services including parking, wastewater treatment and the water plant that are being managed by out-of-state companies. Would the same apply to the Highwood project?
A. I support the city of Great Falls continuing to take a leading role in controlling electrical energy costs. I was serving on the School Board when NorthWestern Energy refused to honor the five-year contract they had entered into with the League of Cities and the School Boards Association. The city of Great Falls partnered with SME (to provide energy at a rate well below the NorthWestern rate. The Great Falls schools and a number of other public and private larger users of electricity have been happy to buy the power the city was offering to provide.
B. Now, SME is proposing the construction of a coal-fired generating plant, which will provide reliable, affordable electric power to their member rural cooperatives and to the city. Does it make sense for the city to support a project that will help it and its electricity customers purchase energy at rates below NorthWestern's? I think it does. SME is proposing to build a plant that meets or exceeds all governmental and environmental standards. The plant will contribute to the economic development of our area by creating good jobs, both during construction and permanently, by providing cost-based power to a number of large users, which will help keep taxes and prices down for our citizens, and may be helpful in attracting new industries into our area.
Yes to both questions.
A. Southern Montana Elective Cooperative (SME) must find a new source of power for its large, primarily rural customer base. The co-op’s proposal uses perhaps the best available emissions control technology and complies with federal and state requirements for siting and operating an electrical generation facility, according to the Record of Decision issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Environmental Quality. Some of the concerns voiced about environmental and other impacts from the plant have merit, but we should address those con-cerns and mitigate impacts within the framework of going forward with the project. Demands for energy continue to grow. We are simply not going to be able to meet those needs by utilizing only “alternative” energy sources. That is not to see we should not develop those other resources – we should. The point is that this society cannot afford the social consequences of drastic changes in energy use and policy that would have the impact of putting people out of work and otherwise creating mass disruptions in the economy. The people that would be hurt the most by that disruption would be the elderly, rural residents, the poor and the middle class. Like it or not, we are going to have to include coal-based technologies in our energy portfolio for the next few years. We should also explore methods of controlling carbon emissions from those technologies. Just saying “no” to the use of coal under any circum-stances is unrealistic and potentially dangerous. Needless to say, this is also a good opportunity for meaningful job growth in our community.
B. Dismal experiences with energy deregulation have persuaded me that our city must explore reasonable options to control our own energy costs and future. The establishment of Electric City Power and the provision of power for city operations as well as several local businesses through HGS makes sense. Despite recent passage of legislation allegedly “re-regulating” aspects of the utility industry, I am not persuaded that Northwest-ern’s future in Montana is secure; we need another power-supply system in place to address future contingencies. Consistent with my statements above, I also support Electric City Power adding renewable energy sources for its portfolio.
A & B. I have supported the Highwood Generating Station project since NorthWestern Energy unilaterally canceled the Montana League of Cities and Towns' contracts. The city needed to find a cost efficient and reliable source of power. Joining forces with Southern Montana Electric has given us just that. The Highwood Generating Station will have a positive long-term economic impact on the Great Falls economy. The plant will use Montana coal to produce energy. The plant will create 500-650 high-paying jobs for construction workers during the 3.5 years it will take to build. The plant will create 65-75 permanent high-paying jobs for skilled power plant operators. This has been and will continue to be a controversial issue in our community. I have read and studied thousands of documents regarding the emissions that will come from this plant. The state has issued an air-quality permit and, according to the Final Environment Impact Statement, (Highwood Generating Station) will be "a low-emitting facility as a direct result of the application of state-of-the-art pollution-control technologies." SME is working with Montana State University on new technology available for carbon dioxide emissions. When this plant is built, the state of Montana will hold (Highwood generating Station) to the highest environmental standards. This will continue to be a complex and controversial issue and the sad fact is that the final decision regarding this project will probably be decided in a court of law.
A. Yes, I support the Highwood Generating Station. The project will bring in excess of $200 million in construction wages and 500 to 600 jobs for our community. Imagine what an influx of over $200 million will do for our economy, allowing workers to buy homes, cars, goods and services. The federal and state agencies have approved the project, and Southern Montana Electric is working with the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership at MSU so that carbon capture and sequestration can be integrated into (Highwood Generating Station). Environmental impacts will be minimal.
B. I support the city's involvement because we will attain a measure of energy independence through public power. Presently, those purchasing power from NorthWestern Energy are buying power from existing coal-fired plants in Montana and North Dakota, which are a far greater source of pollution and greenhouse gases. Our involvement in (Highwood Generating Station) will allow organizations like Great Falls Housing Authority, McLaughlin Research Center, Davidson Investment Partnership, Lumber Yard Supply, Pacific Steel, the city, and our airport to access cost-based reliable power on a long-term basis.
A. The frequent comment I hear is "why no public vote?" Your City Commission removed you from the process, that's why. The bigger question is what universal benefit does Highwood provide to the people of Great Falls? The electricity is not for residents, but we suffer any environmental impact. We will provide significant amounts of water, severely limiting available resources for future growth. Will plant tax revenue cover all expenses for the services back to the facility? Will any surplus lower your tax burden? Does the burden justify a few dozen jobs?
B. This "solution" was looking for a problem. With vague contract language and questionable financial modeling, the problem is set to become ours because of city involvement. A venture of this magnitude must involve the public. While my opinion is valid to you, your voice trumps it. You deserve to vote on this issue, and I'll stand by it.
A & B. The commission revoked the taxpayer right to vote on the power plant. The city documentation I am reading leads me to believe the money spent on the development is lost, and in discussing this issue with about 600 people, voters believe the risk is high.
I believe the taxpayer right to vote should be restored and the current commission should stop spending money on the Highwood Generating Station until taxpayers are allowed to vote on the issue. Currently, I oppose the plant because it appears this is not a good deal for taxpayers and many voters don't believe the Highwood Generating Station will be built, or want to vote against it.
There is an abundance of generating capacity in Montana and we are a power exporter. The private gas plant — for load following, peaking and firming the wind turbines planned for the Montana Alberta Tie — appears to be a good project.
LARRY H. STEELE:
A. Yes, I do, because it will bring high-paying jobs in the community and will also bring economic development to the community.
B. No, I don't support it. It goes back to this — the more things government gets into, the larger government gets. We need to keep government small and let the private sector do things like that. The only way I would have supported it is if (the city) would have put it up for a vote. (Had the public voted for it), then I would have supported it due to the will of the people. I can't even support it due to that fact (that a vote was not held).