Dave Healow

Second wind farm going up near Fairfield

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Second wind farm going up near Fairfield

Karl Puckett, kpuckett@greatfallstribune.com 7:41 p.m. MDT May 1, 2015

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(Photo: Tribune photo/Karl Puckett)

FAIRFIELD – Construction of a 25-megawatt, 15-tower wind farm is expected to begin Monday seven miles north of here, following difficult negotiations between the developer and NorthWestern Energy, which will purchase the power.

It’s called Greenfield Wind LLC.

The Montana Public Service Commission, which had rejected a settlement agreement on the power purchase price between NorthWestern and WINData LLC on Dec. 16, reconsidered and approved the 25-year contract March 4.

Now construction can proceed.

“Getting the power contract has been the biggest challenge here,” WINData CEO Martin Wilde said at the Greenfield site.

On Thursday, stakes marked the locations where towers will begin rising in August and September. A strong breeze was blowing 18 mph, which is typical.

“This is perfect wind,” Wilde said.

The Greenfield wind farm is 1.5 miles to the east of the 10-megawatt Fairfield wind farm, which Wilde completed a year ago.

Wilde, an early pioneer of wind development in Montana, would like to see more projects like the Fairfield and Greenfield wind farms constructed by Montana-based, independent power producers, but it isn’t easy, he says.

“In this case, they kind of had it out with us, and we sort of held our own and settled,” Wilde said of negotiations with NorthWestern.

WINData has a 20-year contract to sell power generated at the 10-megawatt, six turbine Fairfield wind farm to regulated utility NorthWestern Energy.

It negotiated a 25-year deal with NorthWestern for the Greenfield energy.

NorthWestern argued that the price of the electricity, $50.49-per-megawatt hour, was too high, Wilde said, and “we fought back.”

NorthWestern always gives prime consideration to how a price will be reflected on the bills of NorthWestern’s 342,000 electricity customers in Montana, NorthWestern spokesman Butch Larcombe said.

“And a lot of times the developers have a different price in mind than we do,” Larcombe said.

The U.S. Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 created a new class of generating facilities called “non-utility generators” or “qualifying facilities” that would receive special rate and regulatory treatment.

One of the goals was to encourage development of renewable energy.

Greenfield is a qualifying facility.

In Montana, the Public Service Commission has established two categories of qualifying facilities, Wilde said.

One is the standard size, which is a maximum of 3 megawatts. Those projects come with “standard offer” contracts, and negotiations are not required.

Qualifying facilities that are larger than the standard size require negotiations, and the Greenfield wind farm is the first large QF wind project negotiated and approved in Montana, Wilde said.

Instead of NorthWestern producing the power, Wilde said, it is purchasing green energy from an independent power producer, bringing diversity to its power mix, Wilde said. WINData carries the risk for generation, not NorthWestern’s ratepayers, he added.

When NorthWestern needs power the most is at times of peak demand, when it’s very cold or hot, Larcombe said.

“And unfortunately, a lot of times, that’s when the wind isn’t blowing,” Larcombe said. “We have concerns about the wind’s ability to meet the needs of our portfolio at this point.”

Wilde started out in the wind business in Montana in 1991. He’s owned his own companies and also worked for the U.S. Department of Energy.

He’s investigated many sites for wind potential in state. That leg work has attracted large wind developers, he said.

“We were trying to get commercial wind energy in Montana,” he said.

Today, Wilde owns WINData LLC based in Fairfield.

While Montana has seen some successes in wind development, Wilde says the development climate is poor compared to other states such as Texas.

“It’s like learning how to box in prison,” Wilde said. “It’s a difficult environment to do wind, period.”

The export of wind-generated electricity from Montana could be robust, but Wilde says the NorthWestern seems intent to stick with hydro and coal generation.

Larcombe, NorthWestern Energy’s spokesman, defended the utility’s efforts to own and purchase renewable power.

NorthWestern owns or has contracts with 17 different wind projects in Montana with a capacity of 282 megawatts, he said.

“To say we’re not interested or haven’t been involved in wind production really isn’t an accurate statement,” he said.

When NorthWestern purchased PPL Montana’s hydroelectric facilities in November, it changed the look of the utility’s energy portfolio, he said.

The dams are helping NorthWestern meet the typical needs for electricity in Montana, he said.

Wind in the Fairfield area doesn’t blow trains off the tracks, as it’s been known to do in locations such as Browning, Wilde said.

However, there is always a breeze.

General Electric turbines that produce 1.7 megawatts each will be erected at the Greenfield wind farm.

The distance from the ground to the tip of the blades will be 422 feet, or about 42 stories.

They are the largest wind turbines in the state, Wilde said.

“They lend themselves to calm but constant winds, which is the kind of wind we have here,” Wilde said.

The wind farm should be connected to the grid by November, Wilde said.

WINData is partnering with Wind Power of San Francisco, which will help to arrange financing through large investment banks, Wilde said.

It usually costs about $2 million per megawatt to build a wind farm, which would put the project in the $45 million to $50 million range.

Dick Anderson Construction out of Great Falls has been hired for the job. GE will assist in installing the turbines.

The 15 wind towers will stand on a ridge in two rows on a ridge overlooking wheat and hay fields.

The land is being leased from four property owners who will receive royalties based on production.

“So this is an additional crop for farmers,” Wilde said.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Karl Puckett at 406-791-1471, 1-800-438-6600 or kpuckett@greatfallstribune.com.

via Second wind farm going up near Fairfield.

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FERC: PSC rules improperly hinder renewable-power projects in state

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March 21, 2014 6:00 am • By MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau

In a strongly worded ruling, a federal commission Thursday said Montana Public Service Commission rules are improperly hindering small, renewable-power projects in the state.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the PSC rules create an “unreasonable obstacle” for the projects to get contracts to sell their power to utilities, as well as go against a federal law meant to encourage development of the independently owned projects.

Yet the unanimous FERC ruling was not an enforcement action against the PSC, which regulates electric utilities in Montana.

Instead, FERC issued a “declaratory order,” leaving either the PSC to correct its rules or the independent power projects to take the issue to a court for enforcement.

Mike Uda, the Helena attorney representing wind-power producers who asked FERC to overturn the PSC rules, said he hopes the PSC will “do the right thing” and undo rules that prevent projects from getting contracts.

“It was a perfect system that they had to prevent (renewable power) development,” he said. “Well, now FERC has told them that’s against the law.”

Two Montana commissioners, however, said Thursday it’s too early to say how the PSC may respond to the ruling, and that its lawyers will review the FERC decision.

A spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric utility and a supporter of the PSC rules, also noted that FERC did not overturn the rules.

“The Montana rule still stands,” said Claudia Rapkoch. “It will be up to the judicial system to make any further disposition, if the (project developers) choose to pursue it.”

The fight is over a 22-year-old rule adopted by the Montana PSC that says if an independent, renewable-power project is larger than three megawatts and wants a contract to sell to NorthWestern or other utilities, it must win the contract in a competitive bidding process.

The rule was adopted to administer a 1978 federal law that requires utilities to buy power renewable power — wind or hydro power, usually — from independent projects, under certain circumstances.

The Montana PSC also limited to 50 megawatts the total power that can be produced by independent wind projects.

NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has supported the rules, arguing that without them, the utility would be forced to accept contracts to buy more power than they need at prices above the market.

Small-power developers have long opposed the rules, saying they allow NorthWestern to ignore almost any independent power project they don’t want and, instead, choose development of its own projects.

Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, who has voted against the rules, said the small-power projects can act as a check and balance against the utility, by offering power that may cost less than utility-sponsored projects.

“The bottom line is, you can’t have a utility that’s absorbing all of these opportunities (for project development), while blocking small, independent developers from doing the same things that cost the same, or less,” he said.

FERC’s ruling said requiring a small producer to win a contract through a competitive bid is “an unreasonable obstacle,” especially when such bidding contests are rarely held by utilities.

It also said limiting the total power from wind projects to 50 megawatts is “inconsistent” with federal law and FERC regulations, which require utilities to buy electricity from small, renewable-power projects that agree to sell for the “avoided cost” — a rate equivalent to what the utility would have to pay for the power elsewhere.

via FERC: PSC rules improperly hinder renewable-power projects in state.

Climate Parents | Senator Wyden: Restore support for wind power!

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I just signed a letter calling on U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Congress to renew the vital tax credit for wind and other sources of renewable energy. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) helps wind energy compete with highly subsidized fossil fuel industries, attracts investors for new wind projects, fosters innovation and employs tens of thousands of Americans in the clean energy economy.

Because of wind energy’s growing success, dirty energy billionaires, like the Koch brothers, campaigned to kill the renewable energy credit program. Congress is at a crossroads.

Will they support policies and industries that increase carbon pollution, fueling climate-related disasters? Or will they take action to promote safe, clean energy that will allow us to stabilize the climate?

As incoming Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden will play a major role in deciding which direction Congress goes.

Please join me in telling Senator Wyden to renew the renewable energy tax credit now: http://act.engagementlab.org/sign/wind-credit_Wyden/?referring_akid=.227975.zAnFDm&source=taf

By signing the letter, you will send a message the future of our kids and and the stability of our climate are priorities that deserve urgent attention. Thank you for taking action!

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION via Climate Parents | Senator Wyden: Restore support for wind power!.

Montana Department of Commerce – Wind Energy

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Montana is Wind Country

Click the above image to view the Montana is Wind Country brochure.

Montana leads the nation in wind energy power potential and the state is at the center of North America\’s wind heartland. Wind energy is clean and renewable and provides the green complement to Montana\’s world-class reserves of coal as well as oil and natural gas. Much of Montana\’s wind has yet to be tapped and represents a great investment opportunity.

Montana Wind Resources

Wind Energy Objectives

Combining wind energy with conventional and advanced fossil power sources offers a stable \”green\” energy package that meets the growing demand for cleaner energy while advancing the national goal of energy independence. Our mission is to support all types of wind development, from industrial scale wind farms to locally owned community wind models serving individual farms, businesses and homes, as well as the construction of electric transmission lines that deliver Montana\’s wind power to high demand markets.

Wind Energy Assets

Montana is the fourth largest state, but #1 in the nation for wind speed (class 3 and above), available on a wide expanse of federal, state and private lands. The majority of wind sites are located in low population areas and near rural communities that strongly support wind energy development, avoiding objections to visual impacts. Some counties, such as Cascade County, offer developers GIS based maps providing information on wind resource classification, roads, transmission lines, property ownership and topography. County officials stand ready to introduce potential developers to land owners and turn prospects into projects.

Montana\’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) currently requires regulated utilities to purchase 10% of their annual electricity supply from renewable sources and increases the standard to 15% in 2015.

Wind Projects

Four major industrial scale wind projects have gone on line in Montana since 2005, moving Montana from a ranking of 50th to 15th in the nation in wind energy production:

Rimrock Wind Farm, 189 MW

In October of 2011 NaturEner USA began construction on the 189 MW wind farm near Shelby, MT. Once Rim Rock is in operation, NaturEner will own 70% of the wind generation in the State of Montana, with approximately $800 million invested. NaturEner held its opening ceremony for this the project on September 14, 2012 as the project neared completion. This project will connect to the Montana Alberta Tie Limited (MATL) transmission line which is expected to be complete near the end of 2012. Rim Rock\’s Commercial Operation Date (COD) is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2013. Glacier and Toole Counties will receive new tax revenue of $2.5 million thanks to the Rim Rock Wind Farm. Landowners involved in with the project will be paid $1.5 million in annual royalty payments. Construction of the project contributed over $40 million to Montana\’s GDP and operations will contribute $5 million to the state\’s GDP. The Rim Rock project will supply enough electricity for approximately 60,000 U.S. households per year.

Judith Gap Wind Farm, Wheatland County: 135MW, 2005

Horseshoe Bend Wind Park, near Great Falls: 9MW, 2006

Martinsdale Colony South, Wheatland County: 2 MW, 2006

Diamond Willow Wind Farm, near Baker: 30MW, 2008

Glacier Wind Farm, near Shelby: 210MW, 2008

Gordon Butte, Meagher County: 9.6MW, 2012

Under Construction: Over 200MW anticipated online by the end of 2012

via Montana Department of Commerce – Wind Energy.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality DEQ – Wind in Montana

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Wind in MontanaMontana has wind, lots of wind. The state is ranked among the top five for wind power potential and several large, utility-scale wind farms are in operation. The total capacity of installed commercial wind turbines is more than 500 megawatts. In 2009, Montana ranked 9th in wind electricity generation by state, producing 820,924 MWh of electricity. More than 3 percent of the electricity generated in Montana that year came from wind, a percentage that is even higher today. Judith Gap Wind Farm, Credit: Montana Film OfficeThe following links offer more information about wind and wind development opportunities in Montana. Tax and Other Incentives Wind Data Sources Montana Wind Power Map Permit Requirements Developing Wind Energy on State Lands Basics for Small Wind Energy Systems Net Metering and Easements Wind Powering America U.S. DOE Wind Organizations Commercial Wind Projects Small Wind Installations in Montana AWEA Small Wind Turbine Market Report Wind Powering Montana Workshop Presentations Big Sky, October 3, 2001

via Montana Department of Environmental Quality DEQ – Wind in Montana.

OwnEnergy Announces Sale of Montana Wind Farm to NJR Clean Energy Ventures | AltEnergyMag Press Release

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NEW YORK, Oct. 24, 2013 — OwnEnergy, the national leader in mid-sized wind farms, today announced the sale of its Two Dot Wind Farm to NJR Clean Energy Ventures (NJRCEV). Two Dot will be the 4th wind farm OwnEnergy has brought to shovel-ready status and sold.

via OwnEnergy Announces Sale of Montana Wind Farm to NJR Clean Energy Ventures | AltEnergyMag Press Release.