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.


Anonymous said...

By the time Gregorie finishes his hour or so long dog & pony show, the press (Tribune) will have left before the hard questions start from the public.

Publius II said...

Check out Arleen Boyd's first hand accounts, more insightful but
good that Gazette coverered.

Anonymous said...

I think Tim Gregori is a progressive Montanan who wants to do good things for our State and our rural communities. I think it shows real committment that Gregori has been able to make consistent progress despite significant obstacles. He's been approved for large loans at reasonable interest rates because investors believe in this project and believe it will be a success.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Candice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Candice.

Lt. Col (R) Richard Liebert said...

Anonymous 7:57, I could agree with you and as Ben Franklin said, "Well done is better than well said' and I hope transparency will truly be embraced and I'm encouraged about more windfarming opportunities in SME's area where the natural gas plant can be used for firming, and ideal combination. Mr. Gregori has an opportunity to turn away from coal as he said tonight and embrace renewables, natural gas, conservation and energy-efficiency. We can all learn from our mistakes and I'm sincere about that. Co-ops are good organizations, but they can go astray just like any church, family, businesss or government, and it's all about the leaders and the led, and ethics to do the right things and be transparency, accountable and exercise oversight.

For those who know me, I've been critical but when something appears hopeful, I'll get behind it. CARPE VENTUM!