Helena, Mont. -- Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is aiming to transform his state into a national hub for renewable energy resources. Thanks to abundant wind and a vast store of coal, the governor believes his state is uniquely suited to emerge at the forefront of the clean and renewable energy movement.
Government Technology sat down with Schweitzer recently to talk about what the state is doing to position itself as a leader in alternative energy. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Montana has a wind energy production potential of 116,000 megawatts. Over the last decade, Montana has sought to realize that potential. In 2000, the state produced zero megawatts of electricity from wind. Today the state is generating 271 megawatts with 100 more to come from new wind farms that are in development.
"Montana has, according to recent studies, the second-best wind energy resources in the country, some of the best on the planet," Schweitzer said. To harness that energy, wind farms of all sizes are cropping up in the "wind belt" of central and eastern Montana. This wind belt spans northern Texas through Wyoming and central-eastern Montana, making those states the most consistently windy in the U.S.
The state is also well known for coal production, and Schweitzer is advocating for investment in clean coal technology. Clean coal is the process of capturing all the pollutants from coal firing before they reach the atmosphere and repurposing those captured chemicals for other uses.
Video: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer discusses Montana's drive for wind energy and clean coal.
"We have 30 percent of the coal in America -- 10 percent of the coal on the planet," he said. "Whether we're talking about capturing carbon dioxide from existing coal-fired plants or creating new kinds of coal-capturing devices for news kinds of plants, we're excited about developing our coal."
Developing such renewable energies is only one part of the governor's strategy. Schweitzer hopes to lure investment in Montana to help create new technologies for storing the energy these sources produce. The primary shortcoming of wind and solar power generation is that there are no viable methods for storing the energy that's created. Currently it's a "use it or lose it" situation. Solar power is useless at night and wind farms don't generate electricity when the wind isn't blowing.
"The most important thing is developing our storage technology. The wind is not blowing all the time, the sun is not shining all the time," Schweitzer said. "That means the most important technology of our time -- and for the next three decades -- will be storage [and] batteries."
For our complete interview with Schweitzer, visit http://www.govtech.com/gttv