By Cameron Tehranchi
Before I arrived in Livingston and began working in the energy field, I understood the goal in combating climate change as centered on decarbonization. We have to fully transition our energy system from that of fossil fuels to a clean energy system. This is true. The direct cause of climate change is the burning of carbon-based fuels. But what hadn’t crossed my mind until I started my work was about who would be the one to develop and control that energy. Perhaps it would be the most ‘efficient’ for large institutions like the electric utility to install large solar and wind farms. They would benefit from economies of scale in deploying massive amounts of renewable energy resources. But how would this impact the lives of people living in Livingston? The utility would still own the power production and would continue to charge us increasing rates. And, we’ll still be the ones facing the brunt of climate change. Our tourism industry is going to take a hit when fish populations in the Yellowstone River are diminished. Wildfire smoke is going to increasingly make summertime air dense and toxic.
So what is our goal anyway? Are we seeking to do our part in averting catastrophic climate change? Yes, but why not more? What about promoting community resilience? What about creating local jobs? What about community empowerment? These are the questions being asked in the energy democracy movement right now that I want to ask Livingston residents. It’s time to get ours. Each year millions of dollars are siphoned out of small towns like Livingston into the coffers of extractive companies and monopoly utilities. The price of solar and battery storage is decreasing dramatically every year to the point that many people can now afford to own their own electricity production. When we own our own energy production whether that be through solar, wind, or biomass generation we shield ourselves from the annual utility price hikes and we keep money in our community by creating jobs.
For now, our utility hasn’t accepted that renewables are our future. They are pushing to keep Colstrip power plants open on the ratepayer’s dime. All the while, communities like Livingston are educating on clean energy, promoting rooftop solar, and leading campaigns to build resilience. We’re nearing a point where economic forces will tip the scale in our favor for distributed energy. But even when the economics are in our favor we’ll still be walking upstream. We can see already our utility is pushing for a new Net Metering policy that makes rooftop solar uneconomic. This may set us back a few years, but we will keep walking upstream.