Northern Plains annual meeting showcases clean energy, soil health

The Northern Plains Resource Council hosted energy and agricultural experts last weekend at its 46th annual meeting. Attendees converged on Billings from across the state.

Keynote speaker Tyson Slocum – director of the energy program at Public Citizen – gave a broad overview of energy in America. He recounted Thomas Edison’s 1901 prediction that the future of electricity would lie in decentralized, household-level power generation and that electric cars would become dominant on America’s roadways.

Slocum described the primary factors driving major changes in America’s power markets, reflected in the rapid rise of renewable energy. He pointed out that corporate procurement of clean energy has increased more than 5,000 percent in the past decade and that solar and wind energy attract 73 percent of new investment in power generating capacity today.

From that broad overview, speaker Tammy Agard narrowed the focus to rural electric cooperatives and the individual households of rural electric ratepayers in Arkansas and North Carolina. Agard is the co-founder and president of EEtility, a company that works with rural electric co-ops on a program called “Pay As You Save,” now used in multiple states.

The PAYS program helps rural electric co-ops reduce peak power demand by investing in energy efficiency upgrades for the homes of co-op members. These home improvements are then paid back through the savings on individual energy bills. These improvements in energy efficiency – paid for by the co-op through “tariffed on-bill financing” – save money for the co-op and the member.

The Northern Plains meeting also included three panel discussions about agriculture, climate change, and the interface of environmental protection and jobs.

A panel on soil health featured MSU soil scientist Tony Hartshorn and Montana ranchers Bill Milton and Steve Charter.

Leah Berry from the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Ed Gulick of Northern Plains led a discussion on climate change.

The meeting’s final panel included Rebecca Newberry, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, and Al Ekblad, Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. They spoke about considerations for workers as the role of coal in America’s economy continues to diminish.

Susan Heyneman of Fishtail was honored by Montana’s Cinnabar Foundation for her long history of supporting conservation and land stewardship in the state.

The Northern Plains meeting also included skill training for members, the annual meeting of the membership, a panel discussion on Northern Plains’ history, a large silent auction, and other activities.



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