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Keynote Address by Secretary of State Bob Brown 
Great Falls, October 10, 2001

For generations, Montanans have battled the winds that buffet our prairies and tamed the forests that carpet our mountains. Today, we have a unique chance to convert those two plentiful resources into environmentally friendly sources of energy. All we need to do is exhibit the same self-reliance that Montanans have always been known for. By opening our minds to unconventional energy sources, we can nibble away at the shadow of uncertainty imposed by volatile spot markets, terrorist acts, and climate conditions that are beyond our control.

We can tighten our grip on our own energy destiny. During my 30 years of involvement in state government, I've learned a lot of important lessons. One of them seems especially pertinent here today. My wise old friend Matt Himsl, a long-time Montana legislator, used to say, "Never be the last in which the old has died nor the first in which the new is tried."

Certainly, we aren't the first to examine alternative energy options. Several other states-Texas, California, Washington, Wyoming, and Minnesota and Pennsylvania among them-are already far ahead of us in exploiting their wind resources. Yet Montana, which ranks fifth among the 50 states for wind energy potential, has yet to take advantage of this precious natural asset.

Tapping trees for power is nothing new, either. About a third of the electricity in Scandinavian countries is generated from "biomass," which is nothing more than stored solar energy in the form of vegetation. The city of Burlington, Vermont, gets all its power from a single biomass plant.

Energy from biomass can come from agricultural waste, slash and other byproducts of logging operations, as well as from the underbrush that clogs our western Montana forests, just waiting to fuel wildfires. Biomass can be converted into electricity in small, high-intensity, clean-burning generators.

As anyone who has hiked through the forests of Montana knows, you can hardly see the trees for the biomass. That's why, as a member of the state Land Board, I've tried to help facilitate the development of wind and biomass, especially on the 5.2 million acres of school trust land that the Land Board oversees. Development on those lands has the added benefit of providing much-needed revenue for our Montana kids and classrooms. In the next decade, the need for energy in Montana is expected to grow from about 1,800 megawatts a year to about 2,100 megawatts.

Wind and biomass are no panacea; they will not and cannot supplant conventional energy sources in the foreseeable future. But they can serve us in at least four significant ways:

First, they can augment our existing power sources and help us to feed our growing appetite for energy-sort of like the dinner roll that complements our meat and potatoes.

Second, they can stimulate our economy by revitalizing our wood-products industry and creating a new commodity that we can market across the nation.

Third, they can allow us to do our part in preserving the planet for the generations of tomorrow.

And fourth, they can enhance our security and self-sufficiency in these dangerous and uncertain times.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we've all felt especially vulnerable and insecure. Our current power infrastructure is vulnerable, too.

It doesn't take a Tom Clancy novel to convince us that our pipelines and transmission lines, our electric substations and large centralized power plants, are potential targets for terrorists who want to throw our society and our economy into chaos. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to build a bomb that could cripple parts of our power grid and throw entire regions into darkness. The September issue of Popular Mechanics describes how to build just such a bomb and estimates that it could be done for no more than $400 and with no more technological know-how than we had in the 1940s.

We can gain some measure of security against such a cold-blooded act by adding wind power to our energy portfolio. Our power supply is much less vulnerable to sabotage if it's decentralized and diversified. Wind farms tend to be smaller than conventional power facilities, and they can be disbursed across the landscape. Wind is currently the most promising of the energy alternatives. And wind, as any resident of Great Falls can tell you, is plentiful in Montana. In fact, wind is the world's fastest-growing source of energy. It's the most economically viable source of alternative energy.

It's increasingly cost-competitive and, unlike coal or nuclear power, it can be sold as a value-added product. The environmentally beneficial attributes of wind can be separated from the power and sold as so-called "green tags."

If a local community, constructed a 10-megawatt wind plant on its outskirts, the facility could serve as a backup if the town's conventional energy sources were disrupted-whether it was by terrorists, ice storms, or toppling trees.

Because wind is ethereal, no one can cut off our supply. Because wind is free, inexhaustible, and available to everyone, no cartel can monopolize it and hold us hostage to sky-high prices.

The continued development and adaptation of alternative energy sources is as certain as the wind in Great Falls. Also as certain in the foreseeable future is the continued use of traditional fuel sources such as coal, gas, and nuclear. The latter is a lasting reality of nearly 100 years of infrastructure development. As we work to embrace new technologies we must resist the temptation to place our existing energy sources in confrontation with renewables. Rather we must embrace the opportunity to harness the advantages of both sources today. Here in Great Falls we have an opportunity to display the model energy portfolio for our country and the world.

The proposed construction of a gas-fired plant provides an excellent window of opportunity to develop our wind potential. The critics of wind energy often point to the inability of wind to provide "firm" energy, because it isn't predictable and does not blow 100% of the time, though some of you in Great Falls might disagree with that. In order to "firm up" wind energy we need an energy source which we can bring on line quickly - such as a gas-fired plant. By linking the proposed gas plant with more wind energy we achieve four important objectives for Montana:

  1. Increasing the number of megawatts produced by renewables
  2. Reducing our reliance on conventional sources
  3. Diversifying our energy portfolio
  4. Creating a springboard for developing an untapped and inexhaustible Montana resource - wind

As any broker will tell you, it makes good financial sense to diversify your stock portfolio. The same advice holds true for Montana's energy portfolio. An investment in wind and biomass offers a hedge against the volatility of the conventional fuel market. It boosts our self-sufficiency and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Wind can also play a unique role in Montana's ongoing efforts to bolster its economy. Have you ever stood in the aisle at the grocery store and watched someone grab a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream that sells for $3.50 when we could buy a whole half-gallon of Meadow Gold for the same price? Obviously, some other force besides economics is driving that decision.

Just as some people are willing to pay more for "premium" ice cream, some are willing to pay a premium price for so-called "green" energy. Wind offers us an opportunity to satisfy this niche market. And if we don't do it, some other state will. Wind also presents a financial opportunity for our struggling farmers and ranchers. In the Midwest, farmers who once cursed the gales that flattened their crops and scoured their fields are discovering that leasing their land for wind development is a whole lot more profitable than raising crops.

According to the New York Times, Minnesota farmers earn as much as $2,000 a year for every wind turbine they agree to have installed on their land. These royalty payments can provide a stable supplement to a farmer's income, helping to counteract swings in commodity prices. Montana's agricultural community needs and deserves this same opportunity.

Developing our wind and forest resources can also help our economy indirectly by broadcasting our concern for our environment. That concern projects a public image that will attract tourists and new businesses. And alternative energy development can provide an important source of tax revenue in rural communities whose economic futures look bleak.

As for the environmental benefits of wind power, those are as obvious as the wind is invisible. Wind creates no emissions that contribute to global warming or acid rain. The construction of wind farms has a minimal impact on the landscape. And if and when they're dismantled, they leave little sign of their existence. By developing our wind resource, we can help to extend the lifetime of our supply of finite fossil fuels.

Biomass is also a renewable and environmentally friendly fuel. When it's burned, it releases no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it removed from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. For that reason, it's considered "carbon dioxide neutral."

Biomass also creates a financial incentive to enhance the health of our forests by removing the unmarketable wood waste that contributes to devastating wildfires. This in turn would lead to improved watersheds, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. Montana has always been rich in the resources of nature.

We are fortunate, and perhaps unique among states, in that we have plenty of both wind and vegetation. When we adopted the nickname "Treasure State" in 1895, we may not have been thinking of our wind and forestlands, but they represent a natural treasure chest just waiting to be opened.






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