The population of the “Treasure State,” Montana is approximately 1.34 million people. Montana is the 44th most populated state in the United States.
In 2022, Montana’s economy was ranked 47th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP). The state’s economy is dependent on the agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, energy, and tourism industries.
In 2005, Montana enacted a Renewable Resource Standard for all investor owned utilities to sell 15% of the electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
In 2010, Montana established an energy policy designed to “promote energy efficiency, conservation, production, and consumption of a reliable and efficient mix of energy sources that represent the least social, environmental, and economic costs and the greatest long- term benefits to Montana citizens.”
Power Generation Capabilities
In February 2023, utilities used renewable energy (52.9%), coal (43.2%), and natural gas (4.0%) to generate electricity in Montana. Hydropower and wind are the dominant types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in Montana.
In February 2023, the average cost of residential electricity in Montana was 11.98 per kWh, compared to the national average of 15.98¢ per kWh.
Recent renewable energy developments in Montana include:
- 750 MW Wind Project – American utility, NextEra Energy is continuing with the construction of the Clearwater Wind project at a site 250 miles east of the state capital, Helena. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2023.
- 400 MW Hydropower Pumped Storage Project – American renewable energy company, Absaroka Energy is continuing work on the Gordon Butte Pumped Storage Project, which is located approximately 65 miles east of Helena. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2023.
- 240 MW Wind Project – In December 2020, American electric power company, PacifiCorp commissioned the Prior Mountain Wind Farm, which is located approximately 200 miles southeast of Helena.
- 150 MW Solar Project – Idaho solar company, Clenera is continuing work on Cabin Creek solar project at a site approximately 375 miles east of Helena. The project is forecast to be commissioned by year-end 2023.
- 80 MW Solar Project – New York company, Greenbacker Renewable Energy is continuing work on the MT Sun Solar project at a site approximately 200 miles southeast of Helena. The project is forecast to be commissioned by year-end 2023.
- 15 MW Hydropower Project – The Gibson Dam Hydroelectric Company is continuing work to add hydropower generating capabilities to a dam owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The hydropower project is located on the Gibson Dam, which is approximately 75 miles northwest of Helena.
- 545 kW Solar Project – In April 2023, Massachusetts renewable energy company Ameresco commissioned a solar project which will power the waste water treatment plant in the city of Missoula, which is located approximately 100 miles west-northwest of Helena.
Commercial coal mining began in Montana around 1865, prior to statehood. Coal was initially used to fuel steam
engines for the railroad , furnaces, and forges.
In 2021, Montana had six operating coal mines, which produced approximately 28.58 million short tons of sub-bituminous, bituminous, and lignite coal, which is primarily used by the state utilities.
In 2010, 65.4% of Montana’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants. In February 2023, 43.2% of the state’s electricity was generated from coal-fueled power plants. Why the decrease in the use of coal?
- Economics – The cost to generate power from wind, solar, and hydropower is significantly cheaper than coal. The cost to generate power from coal-fired plants is over twice the cost of wind or solar.
- Environment – Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was reported to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants in America.
- Climate Change – Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.
Coal mining has been an integral part of Montana’s economy for over 150 years. However, Montana’s energy policy is to promote energy efficiency, conservation, and consumption of energy sources that provide the greatest long-term benefits to the citizens of the state. Economics and Montana’s energy policy are why renewables are now booming in the Treasure State!
Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”
Jack Kerfoot is a scientist, energy expert, and author of the book FUELING AMERICA, An Insider’s Journey and articles for The Hill, one of the largest independent political news sites in the United States. He has been interviewed on over 100 radio, podcast, and television stations from New York City to Los Angeles on numerous energy issues.
 Montana Population 2023, World Population Review
 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
 Biggest Industries in Montana – World Atlas
 National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, August 13, 2021
 Montana’s Energy Policy Review – Senate Bill 290: A Look At Existing Policy, October 2010
 U.S. Energy Information Agency – Montana State Profile and Energy Estimates
 The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Montana’s First Commercial Coal Mine, by R. McDonald & M. Burlingame, January 1956
 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2021, Published October 2022
 Reuters, “Coal Ash Contaminates Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants: Study” by Valerie Volcovici, March 3, 2019