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CEO January Message

01 January 2021

Happy New Year!! It is so nice to have 2020 behind us. Let us hope that 2021 is not at all like 2020. I hope all of you are staying healthy and have gotten through or stayed healthy despite this pandemic.

As we move into 2021, I would like to share that we at Hill County Electric (HCE) are still focused on bringing our members power and making sure the services you purchase from HCE continue to be reliable at a low rate.

We hear a lot about the “green new deal” and renewable energy alternatives to carbon producing generation. HCE obtains much of our energy from the Western Area Power Authority or WAPA. WAPA provides energy to us via 100% Hydro. Hydro means the power we receive comes from already established dams across Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

The remaining energy comes from Basin Electric Power Cooperative (Basin), a cooperative that HCE belongs to through our Generation & Transmission cooperative, Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative. Basin is currently producing their energy with 40% coal, 25% wind, 19% natural gas, 7% market purchases, 5% hydro, 3% oil/diesel/jet fuel and the remainder by recovered energy.

To give you an idea just how far Basin has diversified since the year 2000, when they were 85% coal, 11% hydro and 4% oil/diesel/jet fuel. The reason for hydro dropping from 11% to 5% is because the demand on Basin has increased and there are no new dams being built. In 2000, Basin produced 2,839 megawatts of capacity and in 2020, they produced 7,003 megawatts of capacity. They also announced a new 203 megawatts of solar that will be added to the total capacity of Basin.

Basin is also working on a carbon capture project for coal plants at its Dry Forks Station in Wyoming. If it proves to be successful, it very well could be a game changer for coal in the future. As we look at the idea of less carbon output and move forward to address the concerns of less carbon being released into the atmosphere, Basin may have an answer.

Some will say we must move to a “coal free world”; unfortunately, none of the current practices or the currently planned generation methods will be able to produce a coal free world. Here is what the 2019 energy generation output for the US was: 108 terawatt hours of solar, 303 terawatt hours of wind and for coal and natural gas it is 2,754 terawatt hours. To make up that dižerence would require a projected use of 40% of America’s land mass, thousands of miles of new transmission lines and the total output of rare earth metals for the U.S. alone would have to increase the world’s output by an unachievable factor. I will not go too far into to global politics; however, China has procured the rights to over 80% of those rare earth minerals around the world. You can start to see what issues may arise if we continue to think that the U.S. has to use 100% renewable energy.

This is not to say that HCE is not interested in conservation of carbon released into the atmosphere, we are; however, also realistic as to what can be completed in the next few decades. We also understand our rates will go up over 200% if we were to move to an all-renewable energy supply. If that number seems too high, check, and see what California customers pay for power. They are not even at the 100% renewable energy delivery level yet. Germany is another good example; they pay on average $0.32 cents per KWH for residence rates versus HCE’s $0.1025 per KWH for residence rates.

To close this month’s message, I want to thank you all for working with us through 2020 and the mess that it was. Hopefully, 2021 will be a much, much, much better year. Stay safe and stay healthy