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Former Energy Secretary Richardson Calls On Development Of "Marshall Plan" To Advance Coal Industry

Jackie Yamanaka

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says the coal industry isn’t dead. He says it’s in transition and there needs to be a plan. Part of that plan may be forming a coalition with renewable energy producers.

Richardson envisions something akin to a Marshall Plan. It was a U.S. program that helped Europe rebuild after the devastation of World War II.

He told a gathering convened by the Wheeler Center he envisions “…A concerted national dedication – a Marshall Plan – that focuses on carbon capture and sequestration.”

The former New Mexico governor says market forces are driving change for an industry that’s slow to change. Richardson says the reality is utilities have found they can build and run renewable energy plants cheaper than they can maintain and keep old coal fired plants running.

So Richardson urged coal supporters to think outside of the proverbial box.

“Get modern and combine with the renewable energy people and the natural gas components and research and technology,” he says. “I know you’re probably saying, ‘well, what does this guy know?’ Well, I was Secretary of Energy. I know that doesn’t say much, but my point is I think new coalitions are needed.”

And he called on Montana to take the lead on this front and not look backwards.

It’s a reference to the pending closure of plants in Colstrip because the electric customers in Oregon and Washington no longer want power from coal.

“I mean these moves provide a great market for your energy, your present opportunity to develop Montana’s world class wind resources,” he says.

But that will take investing in transmission, he says, like the Montana to Washington M2W transmission upgrade.

He says there’s also solar and natural gas extraction.

“You got natural gas,” he says.  “I mean what are you guys complaining about? You got it all.”

Richardson was the keynote speaker at  the Wheeler Center’s Future of Coal Conference in Billings.

Richardson says the subject is provocative and why he’s calling for a national commitment – going back to the comment of  a “Marshall Plan” - for coal.

He says leadership in the state can impact the market driven transition from coal to the cleaner energy future.

Richardson says the state’s political leaders will decide whether to invest state money into technology and research. Richardson says it won’t happen in states like Massachusetts that don’t depend on coal. Rather he says it will happen in mountain west states like Montana.