Poll: Coal, wind power development have strong support; BBI does not
By MIKE DENNISON - IR State Bureau - 12/26/06
Helena Independent Record
HELENA — A majority of Montanans favor large-scale energy development in the state, whether it’s coal or alternative power sources like wind, a Lee Newspapers poll shows.More than 65 percent of those polled said they favor of both types of energy development in Montana, although alternative energy was even more popular.The poll also asked Montanans whether they like the idea of Australian-controlled firm Babcock and Brown Infrastructure buying out NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric-and-gas utility.Fifty-one percent said they oppose the purchase, and only 18 percent liked the idea, leaving 31 percent undecided.The Lee Newspapers poll, conducted Dec. 13-15 asked Montanans about a variety of issues, including many that will be considered by the 2007 Legislature, which begins Jan. 3 in Helena.Energy development is expected to be one of marquee issues before the session, as Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer has made energy development a hallmark of his administration.
Schweitzer has been relentlessly promoting the use of Montana coal to produce liquid fuel, such as diesel, and electric power, through so-called ’’clean coal’’ technology that produces fewer byproducts than traditional coal-fired power plants.A few such projects are in the early development or planning stages in Montana, but none is a sure thing.Schweitzer has also been a big supporter of alternative energy and fuels, such as wind power, ethanol and biodiesel.Both Schweitzer and Republicans have plans to push bills this session aimed at encouraging energy development in the state.The poll asked Montanans whether they support large-scale coal development in the state, despite concerns by some that it will contribute to global warming.Sixty-six percent said yes, while only 23 percent said they would oppose coal development. Eleven percent said they weren’t sure.Support for such plans was especially strong among those who consider themselves Republicans, by a margin of 86 percent to 11 percent. Democrats, however, were evenly split on the idea, with 41 percent both for and against.On alternative energy, however, 75 percent said they support its development — even if it means paying slightly higher prices for electricity. Only 19 percent disagreed and 6 percent were undecided.Support for alternative energy, such as wind power, was strong among men, women, Democrats, Republicans and Independents.When it comes to the BBI purchase of NorthWestern, Montanans are far more doubtful than approving, according to the survey.BBI, which is controlled by the Australian banking group of Babcock and Brown, is proposing to pay $2.2 million for NorthWestern, the utility that serves more than 310,000 electric and gas customers in Montana.The state Public Service Commission will decide next year whether to approve the purchase.While opposition to the purchase was strong at 51 percent, the next-highest category was people who said they are undecided, at 31 percent. This large number of ’’undecideds’’ existed among all sub-groups within the poll.Women and Democrats were more strongly against the purchase, by a margin of 57 percent to 10 percent. Men, Republicans and Independents were less negative about the BBI takeover, but still opposed it by a margin of at least 19 percentage points.