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Doing Our Part

In the June edition of this publication, General Manager Rollie Miller addressed a piece of legislation that was signed into law in by Governor Steve Bullock on May 18th of this year - Senate Bill 363.  This bill revised laws related to aquatic invasive species (AIS) and provides a short term revenue source to prevent and control AIS by decontaminating watercraft, expanding inspection of boats and other watercraft and boosting monitoring programs.

Concerns about AIS stem from last fall when Montana declared a natural resources emergency after invasive mussel larvae were detected for the first time in Montana. The larvae were detected in Tiber Reservoir and a suspect detection turned up in Canyon Ferry Reservoir.  Thus, expanding the AIS program was viewed by legislative leadership as an urgent matter, but with budgetary constraints it was decided not to fund the mandates out of the state’s general fund.

How big of an issue is this? In the Great Lakes two closely related species of mussels -- the zebra and quagga, are stripping the lakes of their life-supporting algae, resulting in a remarkable ecological transformation and threatening the multibillion-dollar U.S. commercial and recreational Great Lakes fisheries. Closer to home, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region estimates that if Columbia River Basin waters were to be infested, economic losses would total $800 million.

This situation could impact all Montanans and we fully support the need for action.  This being said, we don’t agree with how it is being implemented.  We fought hard against the initial versions of this bill because it would have forces cooperative rate payers to shoulder an unfair portion of the funding.

The additional funding for the AIS programs comes from two sources.  One source is an increased price for fishing licenses.  The other source is a new fee to hydroelectric power producers in Montana and electric utilities that receive more than 50 percent of their electricity supply from hydroelectric generation. This includes Vigilante Electric and all the western Montana utilities that purchase their power from Bonneville Power Administration.

When this bill initially came out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, it would have cost our co-op ratepayers 12 times more per kWh than ratepayers of the state’s largest investor-owned utility. Our opposition was only withdrawn after the impact to a co-op customer was lowered to be comparable with the investor-owned utility customer and the commitment was made that the fee charged was to be a temporary, two-year bridge to a permanent source of funding from another, more-equitable source.

Funding for these programs over the next two years is estimated at $14 million dollars.  The bill sponsor and other legislative leaders affirmed on the House and Senate floors and in committee testimony that after the bridge funding provided by hydro-power-related users expires, an alternative-funding source should be found.  We will remain diligent in monitoring this situation.

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