Monday, September 22, 2008

PSC Commissioner Brad Molnar -- Montana Headlines interview (Part 1 of 2)

MH: Commissioner Brad Molnar, welcome to Montana Headlines -- thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

First, we've got to ask this question: are you related to Thomas Molnar…

Brad Molnar: Yes. First cousin.

MH: Hold on, wait for the rest of the question. Thomas Molnar, the famous Hungarian conservative philosopher and historian/political theorist?

Brad Molnar: No. Wrong Hungarian, sorry. Cousin Tom runs a septic pumping service in South Bend, Ind. I don't think that he is very philosophical about it. Don't suppose he thinks it's a political statement either. I could be wrong about that though.

MH: Well, we’re off to quite a start, aren’t we? So let's start with a simple but crucial question: what exactly does a PSC Commissioner do?

Brad Molnar: All fifty states have some form of Commission. Fed regulators (FCC and FERC) share responsibilities with us. If state or federal legislation grants monopoly power we act as a brake to make sure the customer get the value as if there were competition. I'm pretty sure the brake is broke.

MH: Correct us if we're wrong, but you seem to enjoy your job as a PSC Commissioner immensely.

Brad Molnar: Yup.

MH: Put differently, a lot of public office holders enjoy the attention, the power, or the potential for future political ambitions that go with their jobs (yes, that was a little side-swipe at your opponent) -- but don't necessarily seem to enjoy the day to day grind of their lives in public service. You seem, more than most, to just plain enjoy doing what you do. Do we have that right, and is this typical for PSC Commissioners?

Brad Molnar: I truly enjoy the job. Like most before me I am amazed at how different it is from how it is perceived. I would say that all five of us are very dedicated to doing the job as best we can. Even Toole, which surprises me. But he is so political and infecting the Commission that he overshadows the good he can do. Raney and Jergeson have become far more political since Toole got elected.

MH: What is it that you find so enjoyable or satisfying about this job?

Brad Molnar: The total and ongoing exposure to new problems and various solutions in a room filled with very intelligent people and very different ideas. The fight for individual liberty and against runaway liberalism is fought here every day. But it’s not like in the legislature -- you can't go back to your caucus at the mid-day break or go home. You are in for four years. I've actually had to develop people skills...

OK "try" to develop people skills.

MH: We've heard it said that PSC Commissioners have a more direct impact on the daily lives of Montanans than do many state-wide positions that are higher profile. Is that true, and if so, could you explain?

Brad Molnar: We make the Appropriations Committee look like a bunch of panty-waists. Schweitzer talks (and talks and talks,) about energy but we analyze myriad proposals constantly. We recently implemented an additional 50 MW of QF wind (never mind the jargon just catch the drift.) If history holds that will cost consumers over a billion dollars more than the electricity is worth.

And we have zero capacity for ancillary services to firm it. NWE was against it. Montana Consumer Council was against it. I was the only no vote. The press never reported it (Who would write the story and who would understand it?). Only lobbyists and special interest liked it. By the time it kicks in no one will remember it and those that voted for it will be retiring from their new jobs as lobbyists for the same special interests. (Least ways that's my humble opinion)
On a 3-2 vote we OK'd sending 2,000,000 of NWE ratepayer dollars to Portland and Seattle to help spread the word about energy efficiency in the wood pulp industry. I'm sure that most of that money will find its way back to Montana via liberal PACS. Not one word in the daily press. TRY THAT in the legislature.

A rate increase of $15M got big press but the $60M "tracker" we passed several weeks later never got a mention. I was the only no vote and will soon show the world why. But the "why" is a twenty year deal. Legislative actions are only good for two years. Our mistakes can't be undone, are under analyzed, and in the billions of dollars. That is why we have more impact.
And the obvious. You get an energy bill every month. All business and government entities get a utility bill every month -- so you actually pay all three.

MH: Readers of Montana Headlines know that we find your opponent, Billings Mayor Ron Tussing, to be... well, let's not go there.

From a public-interest perspective, we were definitely rooting for Curry in the Democratic primary, but as we wrote in an earlier post, "From a punditry perspective, Molnar vs. Tussing would be a dream: sort of a to-the-death political cage match."

You don't seem like someone to back down from a fight, and you're certainly in one. We haven't seen a lot of fireworks yet -- when will it start, and what shape will it take?

Brad Molnar: It's definitely started. The state Demo party has filed grievances against me with the Office of Political Practices about the Billings Brownout. They were thrown out because Noonan tried twice to get the form right but couldn't quite grasp the concept. Mary Jo Fox (formerly with Raciciot then Martz -- now Tussing's campaign manager) has filed and amended several, also on the Billings Brownout, and of course the D's on the Commission have asked for a ruling from the AG also stemming from the Billings Brownout.

Plainly they feel the Billings Brownout is a good thing in need of attack to try to drown out Tussing's enormous negatives by creating some for me. Pretty stupid. EVERYbody I have talked to about it sees right through it. Does anybody think Tussing could even win Mayor again? The last three days of his campaign for Mayor were a gathering of some of the slimiest people in Montana politics. How they escaped prosecution I have no idea. I expect I'll get some on me as all the old ones are back plus a few new faces.

Because they are issueless they have really tied me up with all the work I have to do on their inane complaints. It is very consuming of emotional capital, money and time. IS this really the best way to form a new government every two years? The Tussing campaign (Led by Mary Jo Fox and Joe Gunthals) is the spiritless fate we must now suffer for failing to rein in crap-mongers during so many campaign cycles. Especially the last mayoral campaign in Billings and the Fox v Cooney for Senate. I fully expect a repeat of the final days of the mayor’s race with enough crap slung by "independent expenditures" to make me vote for Tussing. Tussing’s name is so negative that they can't raise him up. They need to try to bring me down.

MH: One war that you are definitely winning, from what our eastern Montana readers tell us, is the Burma-Shave sign war. Do you expect to maintain your commanding Burma-Shave lead over Tussing -- and so our readers who don’t make it onto the roads of PSC District 2 can know what on earth we're talking about, could you share a couple of your favorite Burma-Shave campaign sign sequences?

Brad Molnar: Displaying all the creativity and originality that Tussing can muster on energy and telecom issues ("I want to explore options and "look for"...never mind) -- Ron Tussing has copied my signs.

MH: Mayor Tussing really is shameless, isn’t he? But in all fairness, he did manage to compose a puerile ditty about the city administrator he was in a fight with -- readers can look that monumental act of creativity up in the MH archives (search for "The House that Ron Tussing Built") -- or in the court records from when the City of Billings was being taken to the cleaners for millions in no small part because of Tussing.

We digress shamelessly -- go on...

Brad Molnar: Of course I copied them from the Burma Shave idea but let’s admit that I took them to a new level in Montana politics. The people that have mentioned Tussing's signs, regardless of party leanings, all use the word "copy cat".

What else did he think people would feel? That he was clever? The rest of us learned in fourth grade that "copycats" were to be shunned on the playground. He has a right to do it but it's dumb and again raises all of his other myriad ethics issues.

But for the unenlightened they are signs with jingles on them rather like the old Burma Shave signs. Some are silly but all fit my theme.

Those Liberal Fellas / Sound Real Clever / Do their ideas work / Never Ever / Molnar for Public Service Commission – (This is the only sign to be stolen so far; last cycle it was the only one to be driven over.)

Mine it now / Drill it now / Don't need Arabs / To show us how / Molnar for Public Service Commission – (This one is very popular. Got me labled a racist. Sheesh.)

When near a school / Drive real slow / Let those little / Voters grow / Molnar for Public Service Commission -- ( This is also a carryover from last cycle. Actually from an original.)

Can't make him run / Can't make him cry / Molnar is / A stand up guy / Molnar for PSC Molnar for PSC -- (In case they were wondering.)

MH: These are, of course, 5 separate signs in a row, and you have to wait a bit for the next line -- very effective. As noted before, you are crushing the opposition in the Burma-Shave wars. Turning to more serious topics on the campaign front, where is this election going to be fought and won?

Brad Molnar: I think that I have to play a heads up game but it is already decided. In redistricting my area was designed to be Republican and Jergeson’s was designed to be Dem. The others are plus or minus 6%.

But 140,000 of my 200,000 voters all live in Yellowstone County. Obama people are really registering a lot of people here but we don't know how many of those will actually vote. That and the Baucus money thing are the only two unknowns.

Other than that the Gazette is the paper of record for the district and everywhere I go people are well aware of Ron's reneging on the $160,000 pay to leave, shoving the reporter and claiming self defense, the law suits, the multiple ethics violations, voting money for his wife’s projects, subordination violations, lying under oath, being already bought and paid for by lobbyists, etc.

Getting yard or Burma sign locations is easy. I just have to say that Tussing is my opponent. I think that the majority of people have already made up their minds about us. If he is the kind of guy (with the kind of followers he has) they want on the PSC they can have him. But plainly even those that supported him for Mayor have come to see that the City Manager was right and Tussing had to go to protect the people of Billings and now they have buyer’s remorse.

I think the primary numbers show that. Curry's campaign was nonexistent (I saw just two yard signs). The Curry votes were not Pro Curry. They were anti-Tussing. No idea what that means in the general. People should wonder why the Dems and liberals are so willing to debase themselves to get Tussing on the PSC when they already have a majority and the odds of Repubs sweeping all three open seats are long.

MH: You mentioned the Gazette as the paper of record in your PSC district. Do you believe that the Montana press in general and the Billings Gazette in particular has given you fair and balanced coverage during your tenure as commissioner and during this campaign?

Brad Molnar: In general "no." But, in truth, I think it is improving. Dennison and I have a respect for each other and trade barbs without ongoing animosity. Actually a healthy reporter/reportee relationship.

I miss talking with Chuck Johnson. He was very unfair to Judy Martz but always fair with me. I think, and hope, that my chagrin with LEE lies with the editors. I know it is with AP. Gouras is OK. Hergenrider in Billings tries to be fair but Lutey is nothing but a partisan hack. The new Capitol Correspondent for the GF Tribune has definite Democrat leanings. Sometimes he overrides them sometimes not. The jury is still out on him.

What's her name, the old GF Capital correspondent, was great. Very unbiased writing but she went to work for Lee in Missoula. Lucky Missoula. AP should have picked her up for Helena. Assume I will have between 45 days and 4 years to regret these comments.

MH: How about being a little more specific and forthright in answering the rest of these questions!

Anyway, while we're on the press, tell us about your working relationship with the Billings Outpost and its editor, David Crisp. Crisp at Billings Blog and Montana Headlines are the totality of the political blogging scene here in this part of the state, so we take a keen interest in the success of the Outpost.

Brad Molnar: I have total respect for David as a person, for his intellect, his ethics, and his journalistic capacities.

MH: While he often describes himself as a conservative, it would seem that you and he would probably have slightly different conceptions of what that word exactly means.

Brad Molnar: I think that David is more like a European style "liberal/conservative" and I am perhaps "right" of that sniveling, teary eyed, limp wristed, panty-waist that wrote Genghis Khan’s prisoner policy.

Dave's and my differences are probably more specific – for example, where we might both agree that the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution would require all states to recognize a gay marriage from any state, I would argue that it should not because of the 10th Amendment but he would challenge my conservative credentials for making such an interpretative argument after standing on fundamentalist interpretation ideals for so long. Hope that is not too obtuse; and that Dave concurs.

MH: I imagine that we’ll find out, since Billings Blog and MH regularly engage in good-natured, yet substantive disputes.

Anyway, in spite of your differences, your column was a staple at the Outpost for some time.

Brad Molnar: It was very popular. Even in Wyoming. But the #1 comment I got was from Dem's telling me how surprised they were that they actually agreed with me. Dave paid me $30 per column and never tried to censor me. People still tell me they miss it; but alas.

And I miss writing it. Actually the column appeared in several papers off and on.


Tommorrow: Molnar on labor unions, energy deregulation, slimy campaigning, interactions with the federal government, the governor, and much more...


Russ Doty said...

You let Molnar pull the wool over your eyes, and ours. Do the math. Fact check his outlandish claim that 50 megawatts of QF (qualified facility) wind will cost consumers “billion dollars more than the electricity is worth.” Actually 50 MW of QF wind power will save consumers at least $2.8 million a year. Here’s why:
The QF price paid for wind generated electricity is roughly $0.0439/kWh after you subtract out approximately $.006/kWh for ancillary services. That is between 1.6 cents/kWh and 2.1 cents/kWh less than what the fluctuating default supply cost of residential electricity has been recently. So there is no way consumers can lose money on that deal. Consumers save regardless of the QF output.
A utility scale wind turbine will produce roughly 3.5 million kWh of electricity a year. That’s 175 million kWh/year for 50 MW. This assumes turbines are operating at a 38% capacity factor in wind having an average speed of 7.5 m/s. (We used these output numbers on a recent bid in Montana.) Multiply 175 million kWh times the 1.6 cent/kWh saving and you get $2.8 million saving a year.
It takes more than signs to be a winner. When it comes to math, Molnar’s a beginner.

Montana Headlines said...

We are quite familiar with your ongoing feud with Commissioner Molnar, and the things you have done to tie him up in court, rather than face him like a man again in an election.

Even if Molnar is wrong about his numbers (we'll let the readers decide -- and Molnar respond if he chooses -- we make it clear to all interviewees that we do not expect them to tie up their valuable campaign time with blog comments,) do you honestly believe that Tussing is the energy maven whiz-kid that PSC 2 needs?

Please. If you know that much more about things than Molnar, then you should have run against him in this election, rather than Tussing.

Russ Doty said...

Thanks for posting the correct stuff on QF costs. Whenever you guys lose on the facts you always engage in personal attacks to switch the focus away from the fact that Molnar says made up stuff to make himself look good.
Saying I’m not a man because I didn’t run against Molnar again sounds like a bully’s taunt to me. Who are you and why don’t you let us know on your blog like David Crisp does on his? Does your not revealing that have anything to do with your manhood? Or did I miss your identity somewhere? I post using my own name, man enough to stand up to you.
Since you brought it up, I got over having to prove manhood when I played 3rd string quarterback at 155 pounds for the MSU Bobkittens and when I volunteered for Officer Candidate School in the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Luckily I was told I would get an honorable medical discharge for some physical conditions that would have made combat difficult. Thus, I didn’t even think about proving manhood when several years back, before knowing whether or not he had AIDS, I gave CPR to a guy who had blood spewing out of his mouth after being hit by a truck. I gave CPR because I didn’t want to see him die. Again lucky for me, he didn’t have AIDS. He did die. He was a guy I would consider a real man. We found out later that he had seizures and could not drive. He had gotten up at 5 that morning to ride his bike 10 miles to apply for a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. He didn’t take time to eat which brought about a seizure and his bike fell in front of a truck. The men who show real courage in this world are guys like him. They get up early, show up, work hard, and shoot straight.

Montana Headlines said...

Mr. Doty, you are right. I responded inappropriately and I apologize.

My weariness with this ongoing feud between you and Molnar in letters to the editor, blog comments, etc. got the better of me. My point, for what it was worth, was that I believe that political feuds should either be settled at the ballot box, or dropped.

I doubt that I'm the only one who feels this way about a race that happened years ago and yet seems to keep coming back from the dead, in one form or another, like a horror movie monster -- but that is irrelevant. And of course, it is ultimately none of my business.

You gave a substantive comment, and it deserved a better response than I gave it.

I have tried over the last two years of doing this blog not to abuse my anonymity, keeping my comments reasoned and factual, and only using snark when responding to someone who directs it at me first. This was obviously an example of a time when I failed at that, and I again apologize.

Ed Kemmick said...

My only question for Mr. Molnar is, who is this mysterious Hergenrider working at the Gazette? We have another Hagengruber reporting these days, but the reference came right after he mentioned the editors, so is he referring to Pat Bellinghausen, the opinion editor?

Other than that, thanks for the most entertaining political interview I've read in ages.

Russ Doty said...

MH Your apology is accepted. Your making it demonstrates an admirable trait. My having lost to Mr. Molnar does not preclude me from setting the record straight on what he says now. So let’s get back to the facts.
I didn’t mention in my analysis of wind costs for Montana consumers the fact that wind now gets a 2 cent/kWh tax credit for 10 years. It is hard to calculate what the cost to taxpayers in general (as contrasted to Montana ratepayers) would be for wind when that is taken into account. The reason for that is that NorthWestern Energy has refused to provide all the information necessary for complete analysis. Also it is because the large federal subsidy for coal is hard to calculate accurately on a per kWh basis because you don’t know which coal plants are getting it.
Here is what we do know. The default price of power from NorthWestern is going up. By the time that 50 MW of new QF wind is online, the spread between the cost of wind and the default supply cost will be very close to or greater than the 2 cent/kWh production tax credit. That spread already exceeded 2 cents kWh for 3 months this summer.
Also, since the tax credit only goes for 10 years, at year 11 and beyond the spread will be saving taxpayers enough money to make up any temporary deficit. In addition there are other benefits not calculated in the analysis. There will be new jobs in the economy in areas like Wheatland County that don’t have much in the way of fossil fuels. Other benefits include an expanded tax base in those counties--$500,000/year in Wheatland County. We don’t have to pay to clean up as many dirty electrons as carbon and mercury emission standards get tougher.
And recent studies have shown that wind generation exerts a downward pressure on the price of natural gas saving about ½ cent a kWh because in the region as a whole less gas is used to generate electricity. So it can be used to heat homes.
Northwestern buys about 30% of the electricity its customers use on the open market. When wind is available, that saves consumers money if the spot market cost of electricity exceeds the cost of QF power.

brad molnar said...

Hagengruber. Sorry.


brad molnar said...

Howdy Dode,

I'll not refute your gibberish line by line. Not the QF's and not the wind numbers (but from whom does the half a million in Wheatland County tax base come from?)

If a QF (Qualified Faculty) becomes competitive as your math indicates it no longer Qualifies. It must then bid into the system. A QF qualifies by having such a bizarre generation pattern or high cost that no one would buy it and if they did it would be disallowed in a rate case. Mt. has 110 MW of QF power. It makes up approx 12% of NWE generation base and is approx 22% of a NWE bill. When NWE bought MPC assets NWE customers owed approx $1B more for QF power than the energy was worth (stranded costs) so the contracts were capped (Tier 2) and NWE customers are being surcharged $25M a year to pay it off. Russ, when something is mandated and subsidized there is a reason....and that reason does not help consumers but rather those that grant special political privilege and those that receive it. Russ, you used similar numbers at the Two Dot hearing. Did you notice that not even your compatriots asked you any questions or quoted your facts?

Anonymous said...

And it is Joel E. Guthals, esq, who is prosecuting Molnar for his ethics violation, not anyone by the name of "Gunthals" as Mr. Molnar so consistently misrepresents.

Montana Headlines said...

Anon- I believe that anyone with the legal sophistication to put the final "esq" on Mr. Guthal's name would also want take the extra care to affix "alleged" to the accusation of ethics violation, no?

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

Prosecution: 3 a: to bring legal action against for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law.

Prosecution implies a legal proceeding. Using alleged would be redundant, therefore unneccesary, (Jimbo).

Russ Doty said...

Vintage Molnar. Show contempt. Call names. Throw out boatloads of false or irrelevant material to fog the issues.

       The additional tax base in Wheatland County (which you thought was Judith Basin County at the PSC hearing on the Judith Basin Wind Farm) comes from the folks who buy electricity. Just like the fact that the coal tax and every utility tax comes from the folks who buy electricity. The point is that Wheatland County gets cash they would not otherwise be able to raise. And it costs us less than if we were buying coal generated power.

       Nice try at misleading folks by implying that the reason I wasn’t quoted was due to what was said. I was not quoted because PSC rules prevent quotation of any consumers. The PSC procedure is that public testimony is not part of the record in the Two Dot or any other case. Legally my testimony, since it was not from an intervener or party, could not be quoted as part of a decision. So one would not expect it to be quoted.

       That ought to be changed—not because I wasn’t quoted but because it gives too much power to those who can afford to be parties and interveners in a hearing. The fact that you give more power to the parties and interveners than you do to the little guys belies your claim that you are consumer oriented. Something is not right about you spending our money to go around the state taking public testimony and then to tell folks who bother to show up, “That was nice but it doesn’t make any difference to the record.” I always let public testimony in as part of the record in hearings I held as a contract administrative law judge in Minnesota. They still do it that way there. Much fairer Brad.

       You’re back to the subsidy rant again without taking into account that coal and nuclear generation are subsidized. Way back on March 8th I answered your questions on the condition that you answer mine. You still have not answered my questions. Here is what I said then:
Here’s are your answers again Brad. I’m giving them on the condition that you will in turn answer my questions. Your question is why must wind be subsidized? Coal got $2 billion more subsidies in 2006 than wind. Wind needs to be subsidized to put it on a level playing field with the coal subsidy. My question: If coal is so economical why does it have to receive $2 billion more a year in subsidies than wind?

       --Your question: Why must wind be mandated? Wind has to be mandated because the utilities like MDU have financial interests in coal companies and want to make money selling us dirty electrons. Therefore, unless mandated, most utilities won’t offer a green power product with energy coupled with environmental attributes so we are forced to buy dirty electrons. Northwestern’s green E+ program is a misnomer. It does not couple environmental attributes with energy. MDU has no green power offering. Give us the choice of a program like the one Xcel Energy offers in Colorado and you will have more green power customers in Montana. Xcel has at least 60,000 folks who prefer clean over dirty electrons. There the cost curves actually crossed and wind power became cheaper than dirty electrons.

       Enough of what was said then. Let’s find out now why given the fact that I pointed out how the Xcel program works have you not instituted a docket to send proper pricing signals to consumers so we get energy coupled with environmental attributes when we pay extra for energy. And why do you let NorthWestern charge green tag customers 2 cents/kWh extra for environmental attributes of wind power bought from the Bonneville Foundation when NorthWestern is selling the environmental attributes (green tags) to non-customers for ¼ that amount from Judith Gap and not crediting the revenue to reflect the true cost of wind?
Why have you not been able to get us accurate figures on wind costs? The 4.1 to 4.3 cents/kWh price for wind is overstated because Northwestern conveniently forgot to include a million or two in renewable energy credit (green tag) sales in the calculation. Also the default supply coal costs are understated because they include the costs of cheaper wind and water power.

Russ Doty said...

Woefully wrong Brad. Competitive QFs are not required to be bid into the system. QF price is capped at the avoided cost of power a utility would have to buy or build for elsewhere. So the QF price has already undergone scrutiny to determine a reasonable rate. During the divestiture there were roughly $600 million in stranded costs for QFs, almost all of that attributable to combined heat and power operations and not to wind turbines. The share holders had to pay for everything above $0.03275/kWh and ratepayers paid for everything below that. Since the price of power is now above that the ratepayers are not at a disadvantage in paying that off. The consumer counsel knows that and therefore does not object. Further unless we have the likes of you to support another dereg bill, there won’t be any stranded costs. The numbers you used for the interview referred to 50 QFs of wind. Now you come back with numbers from QFs that are overwhelmingly CHP QFs. Its an invalid apples and oranges comparison. You get away with it because people don’t know you are snowing them. You don’t even know your snowing them. Which brings us to your admission that after 4 years this stuff is gibberish to you Brad. It shows. You should understand it by now.

Montana Headlines said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Let's try again to use the English language properly. I of course know what the definition of prosecute is. That wasn't the problem with your statement.

You wrote that the attorney in question is "prosecuting Molnar for his ethics violation."

By using the possessive "his" in front of "violation," you are stating that he has ownership of the violation -- i.e. you are making the statement that he indeed is guilty.

You could have said "prosecuting Molnar for ethics violations" or "prosecuting Molnar for his alleged ethics violations" and I would have let either pass without comment.

Anonymous said...

OJ's murder trial...OJ's alleged murder trial....

Montana Headlines said...

Sigh. English lessons all around today, it seems.

In the phrase "OJ's murder trial," the noun is "trial," while "murder" functions as an adjective, telling what kind of trial. "OJ's" is a possessive adjective that tells us whose trial it is.

If "OJ's" was a possessive modifying "murder," then you would mean that OJ was murdered (which last I heard, he wasn't,) and you'd have to explain exactly what the word "trial" was doing there, since you can't have two nouns in a clause (unless they are connected by a coordinating conjunction.)

If you were to say "OJ's alleged murder trial," "alleged" would also be an adjective modifying the noun "trial." You would be saying that the proceeding it was only alleged to be a trial (you might have had an existential point there, but I doubt you were trying to make one,) not that murder ws alleged.

You are wanting to have "OJ's" be a possessive that modifies "murder," but since "murder" functions as an adjective in this example, only an adverb could modify it. And possessives never function as adverbs, as far as I know.

But I could be wrong.