In the People's Interest

Alaric Skjelver: Taking on Northwestern Energy

My name is Alaric and I am a student and cross country athlete at Gallatin High. Every single summer we have many days, sometimes weeks straight, where my teammates and I cannot run because of the smoke caused by the fires every year. That was not an issue when my mother was in high school at Billings West, back in the 90s. It is new. When the smoke gets too thick, it damages lungs and can cause problems like asthma. When I was at my last sports physical, my doctor said that I was fortunate to not have a slight whistle in my breath, like many of the other athletes he’d seen after the recent summer of fires. Let me make it clear. My doctor told me I was lucky NOT to have a health complication. A health complication that is directly caused by the increasing wildfire smoke which is increasingly worsening because of climate change. That is a problem! and Northwestern Energy, our monopoly utility, is in part responsible, by their refusal to change when our health (and future) depends on it.

The impacts of this environmental crisis do not stop there. Climate change threatens our identity and culture as Montanans. There’s no skiing if the snow is too thin; no fishing if water is too low and hot and hoot owl restrictions go into place; no shooting if the grass is too dry; no campfires if the fire risk is too high; and no backcountry adventures if the forests and fields have burned.

But still the executives of Northwestern Energy refuse to act in a way that prioritizes care for the future of my generation. They say they recognize the importance of lowering our carbon impact but the plan they have put out to do so is far too slow, contains no accountability, and relies on building new gas plants all while they fork the cost off on us (NWE has recently filed to raise our utility bill by 25%).  

Bob Rowe and the other executives are indifferent to the destruction of our planet and our identity as Montanans, as long as they can maintain profits. If Bob Rowe can make $68,000 every week while many Montana families can barely pay their energy bills NorthWestern Energy can afford to invest in clean energy and phase out fossil fuels quickly and they can do so without costing the communities that have relied on fossil fuel plants. In fact, my peers and I have asked NorthWestern to do just that. We drafted a plan and have been gathering community support all summer! [Read our letter to NWE and sign on →]

Personally, I am not a fan of protesting. As a teenager, I’d prefer to be hanging out with friends or playing video games – but the crisis is too large, and the opposition too greedy. I am angry. My peers and I are angry at the people in charge, not the people who depend on NorthWestern for their work. We are anti-climate change, not anti-worker. That is what we mean by fair and equitable transition. Towns have been built around fossil fuels and NWE leadership has convinced many of us that we are dependent on fossil fuels and that a clean energy transition is impossible or will ruin our economy. But that is blatantly false and they know it. 

On September 23rd, I will be walking out of my classes and spending the day protesting NorthWestern Energy’s irresponsible energy procurement outside of their Bozeman office. I will be joined by my peers at Bozeman and Gallatin High, as well as young people from Gallatin Valley Sunrise and folks across our Gallatin Valley community at 4:30 pm to rally together and hold our utility responsible.

We need to let them know that we will not accept their lies and we demand change. They are a regional monopoly and we are going to let them know that we are angry and they will be held accountable to our communities, to my generation.

NWE says they are a good neighbor. To that I say, act like it! – take responsibility for the role you play. We need to get off of fossil fuels. We need affordable energy. We need a utility that puts the people over their profit.

I hope you will come out and call for a clean energy transition with me on 9/23! Sign up to stay in the loop →

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