Governor visits wind farm near Fairfield
Gov. Steve Bullock visited a wind farm near Fairfield on Thursday as part of a series of energy roundtables he’s conducting around the state.
Previously, Bullock conducted a solar energy roundtable in Bozeman at Simms Fishing Products and toured the building’s new solar panel array. He also toured a weatherization project at a home in Missoula and held a roundtable about energy efficiency efforts.
Bullock said he’ll use input from the roundtables to develop an energy plan he is expected to release late this month.
The state has an opportunity to expand the state’s energy portfolio, he said.
“We can help design what that energy future will look like,” Bullock said.
Bullock was scheduled to conduct another roundtable in Colstrip, home to a coal-fired power plant and a coal mine, on Tuesday.
The state’s future energy options will include coal but also wind, solar and hydro, Bullock said.
Recently, Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy, which owns a share of the Colstrip plant and operates the facility, said its role as operator is not economically viable and the plant’s five owners will need a new manager by May 2018.
“The wind is shifting under our feet when it comes to energy,” said Bullock, who conducted an energy roundtable on wind at the Montana Farmers Union in Great Falls following his visit to the wind farm near Fairfield.
The 13-turbine, 25-megawatt Greenfield project is located next to the six-turbine, 10-megawatt Fairfield Wind farm, which was completed in 2014.
Developer Martin Wilde of WINData LLC, said both wind farms are examples of smaller, community scale wind projects that involve local contractors and land owners.
“There’s great expertise in Montana for Montanans to build them,” he said.
Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls is the general contractor. The power is being sold to NorthWestern Energy.
Allan Frankl of Dick Anderson Construction said 60 to 70 people will be working on the Greenfield project during the height of construction. Turbine components are expected to arrive later this month and be up by mid-September. The wind farm is expected to be producing power after Sept. 30.
Land owner Marvin Klinker said he’ll receive a percentage of revenue from the electricity produced at the wind farm.
Follow Karl Puckett on Twitter @GFTrib_KPuckett.
Wind energy engineering since 1991
Wind production during the second quarter was below normal across most of the western U.S. and Mexico, according to Albany, N.Y.-based AWS Truepower’s quarterly wind bulletin.According to AWS, winds were below normal across most of the western U.S., Mexico, India and the Philippines but above normal across most of Central and South America, Europe, and the Pacific Ocean and vicinity.Overall wind speeds across much of the U.S. rounded out the quarter well below normal – continuing the pattern from the previous winter, according to AWS, which notes that the Northeast through Midwestern and Appalachian states experienced higher-than-normal wind speeds through the quarter.As for Mexico, AWS notes that most of northern Mexico experienced winds less than 10% to 20% below the norm. Strongly above-normal wind speeds persisted to the south from the Yucatan Peninsula down through South America and into northern Brazil as well as the extreme south of the continent.
The Teton County Commissioners on Thursday will decide whether to grant the Fairfield Wind and Greenfield Wind farms’ requests for property-tax abatements under state law that allows tax breaks for certain new and expanding industries.
We would encourage the commissioners to grant the abatements so they send a loud and clear message that they are pro-business and that they want to encourage economic development in Teton County. This county has an aging, declining population. School districts are seeing their student numbers drop, resulting in the loss of jobs and educational opportunities. The lack of high-paying, manufacturing or industrial jobs or even white-collar positions such as in engineering, architecture, finance and health discourage high school graduates from returning here after they complete their college degrees.
Second wind farm going up near Fairfield
Karl Puckett, email@example.com 7:41 p.m. MDT May 1, 2015
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
North American Windpower: The Year Of The Yieldco: How Last Year’s Top Finance Trend Impacts The U.S. Wind Market
The Year Of The Yieldco: How Last Year’s Top Finance Trend Impacts The U.S. Wind Market
by Edward Zaelke Tuesday February 10 2015
The calendar year 2014 saw a number of important developments in the U.S. wind industry – possibly some of the most important developments the industry has seen in a number of years. Below, we have focused on what we see as the most significant developments in capital raising, merger and acquisition activity, and the political arena.
Although the first publicly traded vehicles – commonly known as yieldcos in the renewable energy space – came to market in 2013, it was not until 2014 that the wind industry and other renewable energy industries came to appreciate the changes that yieldcos would offer in terms of reducing the cost of capital for projects.
There are a number of factors that go into determining the cost of producing a kilowatt-hour of wind energy: the cost, efficiency and reliability of equipment; the wind resource; transmission availability; development costs; and, of course, the cost of capital. Some could argue that, unlike power generated by burning fossil fuels, for wind power, where the “fuel” is free, the cost of capital is the most important of the cost factors.
Most projects will need capital from a number of sources: developer equity, which refers to the risk capital invested by the project owner (either from its own funds or through an arrangement with a private-equity source); debt (which can be bank or bond financing at either the project or the project company level); and tax equity.
The yieldcos offer the opportunity to replace some or all of the developer equity and debt with funds that require a relatively low return.
In a typical yieldco structure, a sponsor holding several completed wind projects or other power generating assets forms a separate company to hold these assets and then sells a minority ownership interest in the separate company to investors. The assets are typically selling power under long-term power purchase agreements and, therefore, offer a reasonably predictable annual production of income.
Yieldcos also offer growth potential. In a typical yieldco, only a portion of the revenues from the projects is distributed to the investors as a dividend. Most of the income is re-invested in other renewable energy projects so that the investment can grow. How much of the income from the projects is to be distributed, and how much can be devoted to growth, varies from yieldco to yieldco but is currently between 2% and 4% annually.
If the wind and other projects in the company are successful, this low-dividend requirement should leave quite a bit of money with which to acquire other projects.
To date, there are about five companies that might call themselves public yieldcos in the traditional sense of providing income and growth, although there are also several companies structured as real estate investment trusts that are similar in structure, but offer a slightly different balance between dividends and growth.
There are also a number of other companies that are rumored to be forming yieldcos or have publicly announced the intention to do so.
It may be going too far to say that the yieldco as a vehicle for raising capital for wind projects is transformative, but it is fair to suggest that it has been impactful: The industry saw the values of projects rise in 2014, even though there was very little change in interest rates or the underlying market in comparison to the prior year. Instead, we saw yieldcos competing for good projects, which, in turn, drove up values.
The “yieldco effect” on project values comes from a number of factors. The most obvious factor may be that yieldcos are able to raise capital at lower rates and, therefore, can be more competitive in purchasing wind farms when bidding against other buyers with a higher cost of capital. Just as important, however, is the fact that, in order to continue to grow, yieldcos must purchase additional projects.
As more and more yieldcos come to market and must find new high-quality projects, the demand for projects – even between and among yieldcos – will increase. This should result in driving returns down and prices up. In 2014, while this effect was felt, it did not predominate the market.
However, as more yieldcos enter the market, it would logically seem that competition for projects would continue to increase. A third, possibly less important factor is that yieldcos have the ability to purchase projects with stock rather than cash. Again, this should give yieldcos an edge when competing for some wind assets and further drive up values.
The so-called yieldco effect was prominent in the megadeal that saw TerraForm/SunEdison acquire First Wind. TerraForm is a SunEdison-sponsored yieldco that had its initial public offering in July 2014. TerraForm was used to acquire the operating assets of First Wind, assets that will offer the TerraForm shareholders an ongoing return. SunEdison simultaneously acquired the development business, which allows First Wind to continue its successful development platform and may provide TerraForm with additional projects in the future to help grow the TerraForm yieldco.
Politics as usual
The end of 2014 in Washington, D.C., saw two significant events for the wind industry: the Republican Party’s gaining the majority of both houses of Congress and what may possibly be the shortest extension ever of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy. It is still too early to know the impact on the industry of the Republican-controlled Congress.
The PTC extension, on the other hand, was an important event for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, was the extension of the period in which to “commence construction” until the end of 2014. This caused a number of companies that had hoped for a one-year extension to scramble to start construction over the last three weeks of the year. While the industry awaits guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the industry is hopeful that this extension, in effect, extended the safe harbor completion date for all of the projects started in 2013 and 2014 until Dec. 31, 2016. Currently, the industry is waiting on the IRS as to whether that will happen.
Equally important is the manner in which the “commencement of construction” extension until the end of 2014 occurred.
As the Republicans and Democrats negotiated over the “extenders bill” toward the end of 2014, the wind industry’s proponents appeared to have struck a deal with the PTC opponents for a longer-term extension in exchange for an agreement not to seek a further extension when the longer term reached completion.
Unfortunately, the White House indicated that for unrelated reasons, it would not accept the bill that included that compromise. In the end, the wind industry ended up with the short-term PTC extension. However, the fact that a deal was tentatively reached may be an indication of things to come, so stay tuned in 2015.
Author’s note: Edward Zaelke is partner at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He can be reached at (213) 254-1234 or ezaelke©akingump.com.
February 4th 2015
A stalled project to put 15 industrial-sized wind turbines next to the six already up and running between Choteau and Fairfield will get reconsideration before the Montana Public Service Commission on Feb. 10.
Martin Wilde of Fairfield, working through the company, Greenfield Wind L.L.C., has been in a disagreement with NorthWestern Energy since April 2014 over what the utility will pay the wind developer for each megawatt-hour generated. The cost to integrate the intermittent energy into the region’s power grid is also unsettled.
In December, both parties agreed to a price to avoid further litigation, and filed a joint motion to approve a settlement agreement with the PSC, but the commissioners denied the settlement by a 3-2 vote.
Since that time, Brad Johnson replaced Bill Gallagher on the commission. Gallagher, Roger Koopman and Kirk Bushman voted against the settlement, while Travis Kavulla and Bob Lake voted for it.
Wilde called the denial “an 11th hour surprise reversal ruling” that “appeared to result from Gallagher placing his personal opinion and politics ahead of federal and state laws and ahead of the best interests of Montana rate payers.”
The PSC has invited the parties to present oral arguments for reconsideration at its Feb. 10 meeting in Helena.
At stake is whether Teton County will see a doubling of wind generation and an additional six-figure tax bill it will pay. Wilde’s Fairfield Wind six-turbine project that cost more than $25 million will start paying taxes next November.
Greenfield Wind attorney Ryan Shaffer of Missoula stated in his written motion to reconsider that the PSC’s decision was “unlawful, unjust and unreasonable” and constitutes an unlawful discrimination against “qualifying facilities,” namely, certain types of small power generation facilities, such as those from renewable-energy sources like the wind.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) requires electric utilities to purchase energy offered by qualifying facilities. The goal is to support the development of small, onsite renewable generation and to promote diversity of a utility’s supply portfolio.
Montana has a renewable portfolio standard that requires public utilities to obtain a percentage of their retail electricity sales from eligible renewable resources. That percentage grew to 15 percent in 2015 after starting at 5 percent in 2008.
The PURPA also requires utilities to purchase electric energy from qualifying facilities at rates that are just and reasonable to consumers and that are equal to the utility’s avoided cost, defined as the incremental energy and capacity cost the utility would have incurred generating power from its own operating plant.
The state, through the PSC, governs the process to define those rates and has set a standard rate for certain qualifying facilities, but the Greenfield Wind project does not meet the criteria for that rate.
Wilde said that Greenfield has been seeking a long-term contract under PURPA with NorthWestern since 2010. But those efforts have been stymied, Wilde said, by the PSC’s rules prohibiting such long-term contracts for projects over a three-megawatt eligibility cap for the standard rate. Greenfield would generate 25 megawatts.
The rule used to be that the standard rate would apply to facilities generating 10 megawatts or less, and Wilde’s Fairfield Wind six-turbines qualified for the standard rate by generating 10 MW.
While the two parties were far apart at first in their proposed rates for the power, Shaffer said, “Greenfield recognized that with some concessions on Greenfield’s part, the gap between the rate proposed by NorthWestern and the rate proposed by Greenfield could be largely bridged.”
The negotiated rate is $50.49 per megawatt-hour if Greenfield pays NorthWestern for integration or $53.99 per MWh if Greenfield delivers a wind-integrated product. Another stipulation calls for Greenfield to delay the commercial online date until 2016.
Back in 2011, NorthWestern was paying a weighted average cost of $60.44 per MWh for qualifying facilities.
The PSC staff recommended that the commission approve the settlement but the commission voted otherwise.
Recent case law in the state determined that rates for purchases from qualifying facilities must be based on “current avoided least cost resource data,” Shaffer said. He argued that the market prices underlying the negotiated rate and the PSC staff’s benchmarking analysis come directly from NorthWestern’s 2013 least cost plan.
Shaffer alleges that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that the PSC is failing to implement federal law for projects exactly like Greenfield. His argument is tied to the PSC’s recent approval of NorthWestern’s purchase of PPL’s hydroelectric dams. That process used the same market rates for evaluating whether the hydroelectric power system was a least-cost source. The commission voted for approval of the acquisition, Shaffer said.
He said the settlement rate “would save between $5.9 and $10.6 million over the life of the project compared to the two most reasonable alternative avoided-cost benchmarks.”
Wilde said, “Rejection of the unopposed settlement unreasonably deprives NorthWestern’s customers of the benefits of these favorable rates.”
He added that Greenfield’s rates would be significantly higher if Greenfield is forced to fully litigate its claim to a “legally enforceable obligation,” which is a “must-buy” provision of PURPA.
He explained that PSC’s own rules provide that a utility shall purchase available power from any qualifying facility at either the standard rate determined by the commission to be appropriate for the utility, or at a rate which is a negotiated term of the contract between the utility and the qualifying facility.
Feb 4 2015
Greenfield Wind and NorthWestern Energy have asked the Montana PSC to reconsider its rejection of a power purchase agreement for the output from Greenfield’s 25-MW wind project, which is under construction near Fairfield, Mont.
By a 3-2 vote, the PSC in December refused to approve the contract, even though most parties in the case supported the deal and none opposed it [Docket No. D2014.4.43].
“This motion presents a critical question of whether the commission will approve a reasonable long-term avoided cost negotiated between a large QF and NorthWestern, or whether the commission will subject the parties, and quite possibly the commission itself, to further litigation,” Greenfield said in its Jan. 8 filing, which called the decision “unlawful, unjust and unreasonable.”
The decision was made during a Dec. 16 commission work session after considerable discussion of the perceived pros and cons of the 25-year deal, which included a net rate of about $50.49/MWh if the developer paid NorthWestern for wind integration, or $53.99/MWh if Greenfield delivered a wind-integrated product.
During settlement discussions with NorthWestern, Greenfield agreed to delay the commercial on-line date for the full contract rate until 2016, in light of the utility’s near-term long position It would receive $19.99/MWh, minus integration costs, for any generation delivered in 2015; its currently scheduled on-line date is Oct. 15, 2015.
NorthWestern initially asked the commission in April 2014 to set terms and conditions of the PPA because it was not selected through an all-source solicitation, as required under a commission rule that FERC previously determined was inconsistent with PURPA regulations (CU No. 1639 ).
“NorthWestern is in the untenable position of being constrained by an administrative rule that FERC has found to be inconsistent with federal law,” the utility said.
The rates and terms in the stipulation “are consistent with, and likely significantly below, any reasonable current estimate of NorthWestern’s actual avoided costs,” Greenfield said in its Jan. 8 petition.
MPSC staff’s projections indicated the settlement rate would save NorthWestern’s customers between $5.9 million and $10.6 million over the life of the project, compared to the two most reasonable alternative avoided-cost benchmarks, Greenfield also said in its filing—and pointed out that the rates were lower than all five of the benchmark rates staff used in its evaluation.
In fact, the market prices underlying the negotiated rate and staff’s benchmarking analysis came from NorthWestern’s 2013 least-cost plan, and are the same prices used to evaluate whether the utility’s recent acquisition of PPL Montana’s hydro resources was a least-cost resource, Greenfield said.
Commissioner Travis Kavulla, who voted to approve the stipulation, said during the Dec. 16 work session that commission staff used more analysis in reviewing the Greenfield deal than NorthWestern did to assess the value of its $870-million purchase of PPL Montana’s hydro portfolio (CU No. 1662 ), under which power is priced at about $57/MWh.
That acquisition was also approved outside of an all-source solicitation, Greenfield’s filing noted.
Rejection of the negotiated rate will “launch the parties and the commission back into unnecessary and costly litigation,” Greenfield said, and could result in rates that are significantly higher than those included in the stipulation.
Greenfield also said the apparent rationale for rejection of the unopposed stipulation “rests upon unlawful discrimination against QF projects, which combined with other recent events would constitute an actionable violation of federal and state law if allowed to stand.”
The notice of commission action denying the settlement did not articulate the commission’s reasons for denial, NorthWestern pointed out in its filing in support of Greenfield’s petition. Besides reconsideration, NorthWestern asked the commission to provide the rationale for its decision.
Chair Bill Gallagher led the opposition to the settlement during the commission’s work session.
“I am dissatisfied that this stipulation is fair and reasonable,” Gallagher said during the meeting. “I like stipulations to come after hearings.”
Gallagher added that the record was insufficient and went on to criticize FERC’s PURPA regulations, likening them to a program that would provide unskilled people with incentives to become housepainters and then require homeowners to purchase their services over those of more qualified painters.
Gallagher also warned that if the PSC approved the settlement, there would be a line of developers down the hall applying for QF status. “What are you going to do with the ones that follow? NorthWestern would end up selling this unneeded power at a loss,” he said, adding that “these new QFs will come in and offset our native power.”
Gallagher has since retired from the commission and was replaced in January by Brad Johnson, who was elected in November 2014.
Greenfield is hoping the change in chair may result in a different outcome.
“Any commissioner that is going to obey federal and state law and be responsive to recent FERC and state court rulings and has the interest of Montana ratepayers will vote in favor of this—there is no other vote,” Greenfield spokesman Marty Wilde told Clearing Up.
“This is a clear case of where federal and state law—and the Montana commission’s own rulings—dictate what the decision needs to be.”
Then there’s the economics, Wilde said—the commission approved the PPL Hydro purchase at about $58/MWh, and “we’re looking at $50.49/MWh.
“We’re pretty hopeful that once they reconsider, maybe with the fresh eyes of Brad Johnson, they’ll be clear on what the right decision is.”
Montana PSC attorney Jason Brown said staff will likely waive the requirement for action on the motion within 10 days of filing—otherwise the petition would be automatically deemed denied—so the commission can take it up later this month.
If the commission rejects the petition and settlement, there’s a good chance the case will be continued and heard on its merits, Brown said.
The PSC could also agree to reconsideration and then issue an order approving the settlement [Jude Noland].
Copyright © 2015, Energy NewsData Corporation
Clearing Up • January 16, 2015 • No. 1680 • Page 11