OPINION: DOE plan will raise rates, hurt familiesSeventy-five years ago, the Fort Peck Dam appeared on the front cover of Life Magazine. The project was born out of the Depression, and in 1936 employed more than 10,000 individuals. On the plains of northeast Montana, Fort Peck Dam would provide flood control and generate affordable power.
By: JEANNE BARNARD , Guest columnist
Seventy-five years ago, the Fort Peck Dam appeared on the front cover of Life Magazine. The project was born out of the Depression, and in 1936 employed more than 10,000 individuals. On the plains of northeast Montana, Fort Peck Dam would provide flood control and generate affordable power.
Fort Peck was not only a project; it became a symbol of hope and prosperity for the future. In the gloom and doom of the Dirty ’30s, Fort Peck provided jobs and was the largest project in the country. Downstream from the dam and along the Missouri River were numerous farms and ranches. The government by eminent domain condemned this land and paid market value for the land. Because of the Depression and drought, this was just pennies on the dollar. After the land was condemned and the homesteaders left, the government came behind them and burned their homes.
I bring this up because six of the ranches condemned belonged to my husband’s grandfather, father, aunts and uncles. They had homesteaded in Leedy, Mont., which is now 60 feet under water. While it seemed unfair at the time, the electricity the dam now generates serves my husband and son on our ranch today. Truly a case where the benefit exceeded the loss and heartbreak of being forced to move.
What is not acceptable is to take this very benefit that my family sacrificed for and give it away to foreign entities. Preference power keeps the lights on at an affordable rate. The farms and ranches of our area feed the world. They do this with the same self-dedication and commitment as those who gave up so much for future generations. The margin of profit remains very small. Ranchers commit to keep the ranch in the family and the lifestyle it affords.
It cost $110 million to build Fort Peck and every penny due that was allocated to power was paid back with interest over the last 75 years. The DOE wants to take this success story of a model that works and turn it into a bureaucratic nightmare. If the government raises our rates with the low margin of profit, it will drive many of our area farmers and ranchers out of business.
The memo sent by Secretary Steven Chu wants to re-direct and change the original mission of Western Area Power. This change will only increase cost to our farmers and ranchers. Affordable energy is the backbone of our country. Take it away and the nation will crumble. This is not the partnership agreement my husband’s family made with the government 75 years ago when their ranch was sacrificed. I participated in the DOE pre-session webinar and it appears that the DOE has already made up its mind in a pre-determined outcome. This is a hold up and robbery of our preference power by the Chu gang in the very area Kid Curry hung out with his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.
Western Area Power has always aligned with the people. The DOE needs to move past the Chu memo and focus on the original mission of Western. The DOE needs to realign itself with the people of America or all will be lost, just like those ranches sitting at the bottom of Fort Peck Lake.
Jeanne Barnard is the general manager of Big Flat Electric Cooperative in Malta, Mont.