Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Report Of First Southern Public Meeting

Here is an article from the Billings Gazette concerning the first public meeting held by Southern to explain their position on the gas plant and to take questions from the audience.

Tim and his group will be in Great Falls this evening from 7:00pm-10:00pm at the La Quinta Inn.

Critics get some answers about power costs
JAN FALSTAD Of The Gazette Staff Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010 11:36 pm

Despite some barbed questions, critics of a planned power plant by Great Falls and cooperative officials who support the project ended the first of four regional meetings in Billings with civility and even some laughter.

But relative civility doesn’t mean the two sides convinced each other.

About 40 people showed up for a Monday night meeting at the Wingate Inn. About half were supporters and consultants and half critics.

Three more regional meetings between Southern Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative and some of its critics are planned through April 5.

Tim Gregori, CEO of Southern, said borrowing $85 million to build a 40 megawatt natural-gas-fired plant called Highwood will keep power rates affordable for the long-term as cheap hydro power from the Pacific Northwest disappears because of increased demand on the West Coast and less supply.

“We believe we can generate the power cheaper than we can buy it,” Gregori said.

During highest demands, the five south-central electric co-ops that belong to Southern, plus the city of Great Falls, use 200 megawatts of power. The first phase of Highwood will produce 40 megawatts. If Southern’s board decides to build Phase 2 and 3, the plant could produce 120 megawatts.

Highwood power, blended with other contracts, can even out sharp price spikes, Gregori said.

Critics repeatedly questioned the assumptions and the numbers and wanted proof their electricity would cost less with Highwood than without.

After more than two hours, Deb Thomas of Clark, Wyo., a member of Beartooth Electric Cooperative wasn’t convinced.

“After we pay for this power plant, will our rates be cheaper than if we hadn’t built the plant?” she asked.

Southern’s other members are Fergus Electric of Lewistown, Mid-Yellowstone Electric of Hysham and Tongue River Electric Cooperative of Ashland and Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative of Huntley, the largest co-op.

Yellowstone joined Southern six years ago, but later sued to leave, complaining about the high costs of the plant and a lack of transparency in the decisions. Southern is negotiating with Yellowstone Valley in an attempt to avoid a court fight.

“We’re not participating in these public meetings because we’re not a responsible party to the loans that Southern Montana just secured,” said Yellowstone General Manager Terry Holzer.

After securing $85 million in loans on Feb. 26 at 8.6 percent in interest, construction will start in August, Gregori said.

He said this plant’s interest costs are higher up front, but will drop as equity or ownership increases. Customers should start seeing benefits in four to five years, he said.

“If we get cheaper gas or the price of electricity goes up, it will crossover sooner,” he said.

When asked why Southern couldn’t have gotten a lower interest rate or a better deal, Gregori said Southern did the best it could in this power environment, which is constantly changing.

A police officer prevented seven critics of the Highwood plant from attending Southern’s annual meeting on March 19. Like the U.S. Senate, Gregori said members can vote once a year to elect their individual co-op board members. And six of those, one from each co-op and one from Great Falls, make the decisions for the rest, he said.

The meeting lasted more than two hours, including one hour of Power Point presentations on the project before any questions were taken.

“I grant you we need to have more dialogue before the votes,” Gregori said.

Larry Luloff, a rancher and persistent critic from Boyd, agreed.

“I think it’s a real good start, an excellent start. We’ve had nothing before,” Luloff said.

Contact Jan Falstad at or 657-1306.

Southern Meeting Tonight

When: Wednesday, March 31 from 7:00pm-10:00pm
Where: La Quinta Inn, 600 River Drive

To explain and answer questions regarding Southern's decision to borrow $85 million to build a gas plant

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 29, 2010

One council is meeting this week:

When: Thursday, April 1 at 7:00pm
Where: Riverview School cafeteria

Neighborhood Watch
School levy
Introduction to Cascade County sheriff candidate Glen Stinar
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 22, 2010

Only one council is meeting this week:

When: Thursday, March 25 at 6:30pm
Where: Heritage Baptist Church, 900 52nd Avenue North

Committee reports
Problem property update
10th Avenue North speed limit and other traffic concerns - Jim Rearden, public works
Community composting - Mike Dalton
Neighborhood concerns

Friday, March 19, 2010

Annual Meeting Not Open To The Public

Today, Southern is holding their annual meeting in Billings, but will not allow the public to attend.

The following is an article from the Billings Gazette. There is however, one correction to be made. The City of Great Falls did not appeal Judge Phillips ruling as the last line indicates.

Co-op to keep its meeting closed
By: Linda Halstead-Acharya of the Billings Gazette:

Late last week, Southern Montana Electric Cooperative announced that its annual meeting would be closed to the public, just days before a judge ruled that thousands of co-op documents must be opened to the public.

John Prinkki, a member of Southern’s board of directors, confirmed that the annual meeting this Friday would not be open to members of the distribution cooperatives that make up Southern, the “umbrella co-op.”

Tim Gregori, CEO of Southern, said the majority of board members favor regional meetings as the best way to answer questions. If Southern’s board approves the idea, Gregori foresees a “very aggressive” schedule with meetings in Billings, Great Falls and Forsyth and Lewistown.

“After speaking with other member systems, they believe that it would be far better to use the regional meeting approach than simply opening the annual meeting because it would allow for wider participation and a better forum,” he said.

If necessary, regional meetings could be held more often in those areas where there is a higher level of interest, he said.

Before the 2009 annual meeting, members of the co-ops that make up Southern had requested an open meeting and more transparency. During an earlier interview, Gregori explained that the only members of Southern are the handful of board members who represent Southern’s five co-op members.

Prinkki said “it didn’t make sense” to open the meeting, noting that the annual meeting was expected to run 30 minutes and that most other agenda items dealt with confidential contractual matters.

Arleen Boyd of Fishtail, a member of the Beartooth Electric Cooperative who has long pressed Southern for more information, said the informational meetings are a step in the right direction, particularly regarding information dissemination and opportunities for discussion. She argues, however, that the meetings do not address the issue of transparency.

“Transparency is the timely access to information,” she said. “Transparency is achieved when members know what the current issues are and how business is being conducted — what decisions are made and by whom. This requires access to meetings, especially annual meetings, and timely access to financial and other information.”

Boyd is not alone in targeting Southern over transparency issues. District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown ruled last week the cooperative must release three boxes of information that had long been withheld from the public.

Southern and the city of Great Falls filed an appeal.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Judge Says No To SME

Good news.

Today, Judge Phillips denied SME's appeal to keep citizens from seeing the documents in the "black box".

Several city advocates visited City Hall today to start the process of reviewing the items.

Thanks to Gregg for posting the order.

City Advisory Board Openings

The City of Great Falls currently has several advisory board openings. Deadline to apply is Friday, March 19, 2010:


Three openings are available on the Advisory Commission on International Relationships for three-year terms through March 31, 2013. The Commission consists of nine to eleven members. The Commission provides support, coordination and exchange of information for international programs in the community. Meetings are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM. For more information contact Kelly Audet at 455-8440.


The Business Improvement District has one opening to fill the remainder of a four-year term through June 30, 2012. The District consists of seven members appointed by the City Commission, serving a four-year term. The District oversees the functions, operations, management and administration as necessary to carry out the purposes and objectives of the District. Interested applicants must be owners of property within the boundaries of the Business Improvement District or their personal representative, agent or guardian. Meetings are scheduled the third Thursday of each month at 9:30 AM. For more information, contact the Business Improvement District at 727-5430.


The Design Review Board has one opening for a three-year term through March 31, 2013. The Design Review Board consists of five members appointed by the City Commission. The Board reviews specified types of development proposals to ensure that the design and aesthetics conform to the review criteria contained in the municipal code. The current opening is for an architect. Members are appointed with an effort to achieve a diversity of expertise, background and interest. Board meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month if needed. Applicants must reside within the City of Great Falls. For more information, contact Kim McCleary at 455-8405.


The Golf Advisory Board has two openings for three-year terms through March 31, 2013. The Golf Advisory Board consists of five members appointed by the City Commission. Member representation is as follows: City Men’s Golf Association (1), City Women’s Golf Association (1), Malmstrom Golf Association (1), non-league golfers (2). The current openings are for a non-league member and a Women’s Golf Association member. The Board advises the City Commission, City Manager, and Park and Recreation staff regarding operation of the municipal golf courses. The Golf Advisory Board meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 3:30 p.m. Contact Marty Basta or Patty Rearden at 761-1265 for more information.

You may download the application form or pick up an application at the City Manager's office.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 15, 2010

Two councils are meeting this week in addition to the Council of Councils meeting:

When: Tonight, March 15 at 7:00pm
Where: Great Falls Clinic's Specialty Center conference room

Nixle emergency notification system
Neighborhood Watch
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Council of Councils:
When: Wednesday, March 17 at 7:00pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

Medical marijuana - zoning
Problem of RVs and other large vehicles parking on city streets
Upcoming school mill levy election
Individual council updates

When: Thursday, March 18 at 6:00pm
Where: Great Falls PreRelease Center - Women's Annex

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Pea Pod Community Garden Meeting

When: Tonight, March 15 at 6:30pm
Where: Community Rec. Center at 8th Street and 2nd Avenue North

A work planning meeting to begin gardening

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March 16 City Work Session

When: Tuesday, March 16 at 5:45pm in the Gibson Room

  1. South Arterial Alignment Study – Mike Haynes
  2. CDBG Recommendations & HOME Program – Susan McCord and Chris Imhoff

We'll Find Out Monday

As we learned a few days ago, SME asked Judge Phillips to stay his decision to open the city's black box. Evidently, SME has also filed a notice to appeal the judge's ruling with the Montana Supreme Court.

Yesterday, folks interested in looking at the documents released by the court order, were not allowed to look at them. (The city is waiting to hear from the judge, who is supposed to rule Monday, as to whether the city can open the records or not).

There must be some juicy tidbits in that box to continue to spend taxpayer and cooperative members' monies to keep the damn things secret.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunshine Finally Prevails!

On March 8, 2010, Judge E. Wayne Phillips ruled in favor of sunshine.

Citizens will now be able to see the vast majority of documents contained within the so-called black box at city hall.

Clearly, Judge Phillips was not amused by the antics employed by SME and the City to keep citizens from seeing information that has been their constitutional right to do so from the very beginning of this boondoggle.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 8, 2010

Four councils meet this week:

When: Monday, March 8 at 7:00pm
Where: GF Recreation Center

Committee reports
Problem properties
Neighborhood concerns
GFPS Citizen's Budget Committee
Medical Marijuana Zoning Ordinance Discussion
Council Goals Discussion/Document
Pea Pod Neighborhood Garden -- Status Update
Status of Whittier School Zone Project
Status of Park Drive Speed Petition
Status of Gibson Park Lighting Project
Update on changes to Whittier Pickup/Dropoff zones

When: Tuesday, March 9 at 7:00pm
Where: Meadowlark School Library

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns
When: Wednesday, March 10 at 7:00pm
Where: West Elementary School cafeteria

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns
Update on the westside levee
Update on citywide tree removal
Neighborhood Watch

When: Thursday, March 11 at 7:00pm
Where: GF High School South Campus, room 105

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns
Neighborhood Watch

NC#1 is also looking for a registered voter living within its boundaries to replace a resigning member. If interested, please attend the meeting or contact Patty Cadwell at 455-8496.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Beartooth Vigilant Committee Continues To Fight

This is a guest editorial in the March 5, 2010 Billings Gazette from a member of the Beartooth Co-op:

Beartooth co-op shouldn’t pay for plant it can’t use

Beartooth Electric Cooperative members pay the highest electricity rates in Montana. Our rates rose 25 percent in 2009 and will rise again next month. Now we are about to add to our electricity bills payments on an $85 million loan for phase one of a major power-generating project.

Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative Inc. (Southern), Beartooth’s wholesale electricity provider, contends that building a generating station will secure our power supply and lower our bills.

There is no evidence that Beartooth members will be able to use any power from this plant before 2019, when Southern’s all-requirements contract with PPL Montana, which supplies our power, ends. Yet, we will begin paying immediately for Southern’s gas-fired Highwood Generation Station described by Standard and Poor’s as a $270 million, three-phase, 120-megawatt facility. Southern has recorded financing agreements for the first 40-megawatt phase of the project.

Beartooth members already are paying off debt for Southern’s first effort at power generation. Southern and its for-profit development arm, SME Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative Inc., spent nearly $40 million on the 250-megawatt coal-fired Highwood Generation Station before failing to finance it.

It is hard to see how Beartooth, a very small co-op with low electricity demand, can realize a positive return on the $4 million to $6 million it already has invested in Highwood Southern has six members: four small co-ops, Beartooth, Fergus, Tongue River and Mid-Yellowstone; Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative, which has filed suit to leave Southern; and Great Falls Electric City Power commercial customers, recruited to justify the original 250-megawatt plant.

Beartooth members have repeatedly underwritten Southern’s expenditures without information or open discussion. Without our knowledge, Southern placed the co-ops’ cheap federal hydropower into a “blended supply.” This allowed Great Falls, which cannot qualify for the federal power on its own, to save $20,000 to $50,000 per month while our rates rose 25 percent.

Electric co-ops pay no state or federal income tax, get low-interest government loans and buy the lowest cost power in the country from federal power-making authorities. In return, they must deliver at-cost, reliable power to rural customers and abide by the universally recognized cooperative principles: democratic decision-making, member control of capital and open information. The principles require Beartooth, Southern, and SME to make the following changes:

• Provide information and insure transparency.

• Pay Beartooth for the power it funds but cannot use.

• Assume no further debt on Beartooth’s behalf without member approval.

• End the conflict of interest for Beartooth’s board president, who simultaneously represents the differing interests of Beartooth, Southern and SME.

Beartooth’s board president serves on the boards of Southern and SME. He represents both sides in negotiations between Beartooth and Southern or SME. This conflict of interest is bad business practice and bad for Beartooth.

Arleen Boyd of Fishtail is a member of Beartooth Electric Cooperative.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Electric City Power Board No More

The current Electric City Power Board was disbanded tonight by a 4-1 vote by the City Commission. Bronson dissented.

Only Lee Ebeling and Ole Stimac from the board attended.

Money IS Important

I attended the Electric City Power board meeting last night and was as usual, unimpressed.

Board members continue to blame everybody and everything else for their lack of leadership. A new twist came when more than one of them bemoaned the fact that they are volunteers; serving on this board without compensation. (Yes, they reminded us, more than once, they are not getting paid).

Does this mean that had the taxpayers paid them, they would have actually stepped up and done their job and represented the interests of the city and its citizens?

We can only hope the City Commission votes this evening to remove them.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of March 1, 2010

Two councils are meeting this week:

When: Wednesday, March 3 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room

Medical marijuana zoning
Update from Sheriff Castle
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, March 4 at 7:00pm
Where: Riverview School cafeteria

Neighborhood Watch program
Update from Sheriff Castle
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns