montana wind energy
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
Construction back on track at Greenfield wind farm after delay over taxes Karl Puckett, firstname.lastname@example.org 3:15 p.m. MDT March 30, 2016
(Photo: Tribune file photo/Karl Puckett)
Construction of a 25-megawatt, 13-turbine wind farm seven miles north of Fairfield is back on track, according to the developer.Martin Wilde, principal engineer at WINData LLC, said Wednesday that foundations are being poured at Greenfield wind farm.“We’re moving ahead,” Wilde said.Wilde is partnering with Foundation Wind Power of San Francisco in developing the project.
Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls is the general contractor.Towers and turbines will be erected this summer, Wilde said. The goal is to have construction completed by September.“Our goal has been to keep money in Montana to help Montana communities leverage the wind power opportunities to the full extent,” Wilde said.
Greenfield wind farm is located next to the six-turbine, 10-megawatt Fairfield wind farm, which was completed in 2014.Construction was halted at Greenfield last summer over property taxes.At the time, Foundation Windpower said the first property tax bill for the existing Fairfield wind farm came in higher than expected.Foundation Windpower then applied for tax abatements seeking tax breaks for both the operating Fairfield wind farm and the proposed Glacier wind farm.
An abatement means that the developer will receive a 50 percent tax cut over the first five years with taxes gradually increasing to 100 percent at the end of the 10th year.Jim Hodgskiss, Teton County commissioner, said commissioners granted a tax abatement for the Glacier project because it still hadn’t been constructed, but denied the abatement for the Fairfield project because it already was completed.
About half of the total tax reduction for the Fairfield wind farm, or about $2 million, would have been shifted onto the rest of the tax rolls if commissioners would have approved the abatement after the wind farm already had been constructed, Hodgskiss said.“We didn’t feel it was right to shift it back to the rest of the taxpayers after it was built,” Hodgskiss said.
Follow Karl Puckett on Twitter @GFTrib_KPuckett.
|in News Departments > Policy Watch|
On Monday, President Barack Obama and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the roll-out of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) imposing carbon dioxide (CO2) standards on existing power plants. Given the intent of reducing CO2 emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2022 and 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, these rules will have a significant impact on industrial consumers of electricity, as well as on developers of fossil-fuel-fired and renewable (e.g., solar, biomass and wind) generation.
Obama has repeatedly stated his determination to regulate the roughly 40% of the nation’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions that come from the energy sector. The EPA proposed rules on June 18, 2014, that would impose a complex program for regulating existing power plants. Monday’s rule brings the first stage of this rulemaking closer to a conclusion. Although the most attention is on the rules applicable to existing power plants, rules for regulation of CO2 from new and modified facilities is traveling in lockstep with the existing source rules.
Section 111(d) differs from the EPA’s conventional rulemaking authority. For new and modified power plants, the EPA simply issues standards (under CAA Section 111(b)) that are directly applicable to all new and modified affected facilities. The EPA proposed CO2 standards under CAA Section 111(b) for new power plants in January 2014 and for modified power plants in June 2014. The EPA’s 111(d) authority is more circumspect. Rarely employed, Section 111(d) grants the agency the authority to issue emission guidelines that then must be used by the states to craft programs that are consistent with the EPA’s stated objectives. These state programs must then be approved by the EPA. However, the guidelines are just that – options for how to create a program and not outright mandates as to what the state rules must entail. The EPA issued 111(d) standards for existing, unchanged power plants Monday that seek to establish a unique program unlike any other existing regulatory program.
The CPP establishes state-specific CO2 emission limits and requires that the states demonstrate how they will achieve those limits by the deadlines in 2022 and 2030. The concept of two-stage limits matches what was proposed in 2014. However, the EPA has extended the deadline for compliance with the initial standards from 2020 to 2022; the second-stage deadline remains unchanged at 2030. The CO2 limits are applicable to existing coal- and oil-fired power plants, as well as existing natural-gas-fired combined-cycle generating facilities – a change from the 2014 proposal.
In establishing its plan to comply with the 111(d) mandate, a state can choose to comply with one of three types of limits. First, and consistent with the 2014 proposal, a state can adopt a pound per megawatt-hour (lb/MWh) limit. Second, a state can adopt a total ton per year (tpy) CO2 cap that would apply within the state. This option was also discussed in the 2014 proposal, but no values were suggested for individual states. Third, a state can adopt a tpy CO2 cap that includes an allowance for new sources. Once the limit is established, a state must develop and implement a plan to achieve the limit. This plan can consist of either a conventional limit applicable to the electrical generating units covered by the CPP (i.e., coal- and oil-fired power plants and natural-gas-fired combined-cycle units), or it can reach “beyond the fence,” incorporating other CO2 reductions and taking credit for those when calculating compliance. It is the utilization of these “beyond the fence” measures, such as renewable energy standards and residential energy efficiency programs, to demonstrate compliance with standards applicable to power plants that fostered a lot of questions in 2014 as to the legality of the program. The EPA is also requiring a hard “backstop” limit that will automatically kick in and apply to individual regulated electrical generating units if the state program fails to achieve its intended “beyond the fence” reductions.
The EPA is clearly trying to promote nationwide or regional cap-and-trade programs. The final rules promote emissions trading mechanisms and discuss the CPP enabling states to generate “trading ready” allowances that avoid the need for interstate agreements. Expanding on language in the 2014 proposal, the EPA speaks of individual power plants being able to meet their obligations through emission rate credits (if a rate-based standard is adopted) or allowances (if a mass-based standard is adopted). Cap-and-trade was a clear element underlying the 2014 proposed rule, but it takes on a more prominent role in the final rule.
Implementation of the program will take place over the next 15 years. As noted above, each state has a limit it must attain by 2022 and a more stringent limit by 2030. Many of these limits have changed dramatically from the 2014 proposal (e.g., the 2030 limit for Washington increased from 215 lbs CO2/MWh to 983 lbs CO2/MWh, while North Dakota decreased from 1,783 lbs CO2/MWh to 1,305 lbs CO2/MWh). Each state must develop a plan for how it will attain these limits that must be reviewed and approved by EPA. If a state fails to propose a plan or the EPA disapproves the state’s plan, then the agency will impose requirements in that state. The initial submittals are due by Sept. 6, 2016. This initial submittal can consist of either a state’s final plan or an initial plan with a request for an extension. By Sept. 6, 2018, all final plans must be submitted. These plans must identify milestones used to demonstrate progress toward achieving the CO2 reduction goals.
The rules create the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), which provides an interesting opportunity for renewable energy developers. The CEIP allows states a mechanism to reward wind and solar projects that commence construction after a state submits its 111(d) plan to the EPA (or after Sept. 6, 2018, for states that choose not to submit a final state 111(d) plan by that date).
A project must be either located in a state or benefit a specific state to be eligible under the CEIP as part of that state’s 111(d) program. The states are required to include a CEIP implementation regimen in their 111(d) plan and account for allowances (if a mass-based plan approach) or emission rate credits (ERCs) if a rate-based plan approach. If the state does so and the wind or solar project commences construction after the state plan is submitted, then the project earns ERCs or allowances based on the quantity of metered megawatts generated in 2020 and 2021. Among renewables projects, only wind and solar are eligible. For every metered MWh generated in 2020 and 2021, the project will receive one ERC (half from the state and half from the EPA). Even states or tribal areas without any regulated generating units may provide ERCs so long as they are connected to the contiguous U.S. grid and meet certain eligibility requirements. The ERCs or allowances can be used for compliance by a regulated generating unit and are fully transferable prior to such use. A nationwide cap of 300 million tons of CO2 ERCs/allowances applies to the CEIP program (and includes ERCs/allowances awarded to low-income energy efficiency projects that reduce electricity usage in low-income communities in 2020 and/or 2021). In order to be eligible for the ERCs/allowances under the CEIP, developers are not required to demonstrate that their project is “additional” or surplus relative to a business-as-usual or state-goal-related baseline. Many questions abound about how the CEIP will work, and the EPA does not address them in Monday’s rule. Instead, the agency plans to issue another rule with the details of the CEIP.
Stay tuned as this process unfolds in the next few days, weeks and years. The EPA’s issuance of the rules shifts the burden to the states to develop plans and triggers further rulemaking to flesh out requirements like the CEIP. There will be opportunities to get involved in the federal rulemaking, as well as with state rulemaking efforts as the states navigate this maze of requirements and work to meet the tight deadlines.
Tom Wood is a partner at Stoel Rives LLP, where his practice focuses on the Clean Air Act.
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.
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
More Wind Turbines Potentially Coming to Fairfield
Posted: Jan 10, 2015 5:11 PM MST Updated: Jan 10, 2015 7:41 PM MST
On a farm in Fairfield 6 wind turbines already generate 10 megawatts, which supplies about 2,000 average residential houses annually, but developers are trying to build more of them.
“It will be 15 more turbines just like these, maybe slightly bigger,” said Marty Wilde Principal Engineer at Wind Data.
Wilde said they will add 25 megawatts of renewable energy into the Northwest Energy grid. Wind turbines currently cost about 2 million dollars a megawatt, but Wilde said there are advantages.
“The main advantage is the carbon free generation and how it addressees some of the green house gases and the climate change issues,” said Marty Wilde Principal Engineer at Wind Data.
Wind turbines in other states have killed endangered birds, but that has not been the case in Fairfield.
“Out here we haven’t had any impact and we have ongoing post construction studies,” said Marty Wilde Principal Engineer at Wind Data.
Wilde said building more turbines will bring construction jobs, more local tax dollars to the county, and money to farmers who provide the land.
“There is really no investment on our part other than having to farm around them and it creates income so for sure it helps, and that income helps the community,” said Reece Brown with K Farms
The next set of 15 wind turbines for the “Greenfield Wind Project” would be built this year and is expected to be done by this coming fall, but none of them will be built unless the Montana Public Service Commission approves it first.
“There have been a lot of challenges one again, that’s why we are so excited to be in front of the PSC like we are now looking for this approval for this next wind farm here,” said Marty Wilde Principal Engineer at Wind Data.
MISSOULIAN EDITORIAL: PSC should approve wind power deal
December 28, 2014 7:00 am
Even as one of the biggest wind energy projects in Montana broke ground near Bridger this month, the state’s Public Service Commission was deciding to deny a contract between NorthWestern Energy and the developers of a new wind power project. That decision, if allowed to stand, bodes ill for new wind development in Montana in the immediate future.
Greenfield Wind is proposing a 25-megawatt wind-power project near Fairfield. The agreement between NorthWestern and Greenfield would allow the energy company to buy power from the wind farm for $54 per megawatt-hour for the next 25 years. That, as reports have pointed out, is less than the cost of power from the 11 hydroelectric dams NorthWestern bought earlier this year.
The PSC approved that purchase, which will provide power at a rate of about $57 to $58 per mWh — even though the deal could cost ratepayers as much as $800 million in excess costs, according to one expert analysis, and will mean a direct rate increase for NorthWestern’s electric customers of more than 5 percent.
With that recent history, it was perplexing to see the PSC get hung up on the wind power agreement on a 3-2 vote. Apparently, the three commissioners who voted against the deal have concerns that NorthWestern was putting itself on the hook to purchase energy it may not need. NorthWestern, not surprisingly, disagrees with the commissioners’ conclusion.
What is somewhat surprising is that the PSC’s own staff, after reviewing the agreement, noted that adding the wind energy from this contract to NorthWestern’s portfolio would actually result in lower costs for consumers. It’s also worth mentioning that even as the PSC was deciding against this deal, wind power developers across the nation were seizing an opportunity afforded by Congress in the final days of the session through a wind production tax credit. The credit applies only to new projects started this year, and with only a few days left in the year, developers are hurrying to get their shovels in the ground.
The developers of the 120-turbine Mud Springs Wind Ranch in Carbon County were among them. Thanks to the tax credit, the $550 million project stands to recoup 2.3 cents for every kilowatt hour of power it produces.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen Jon Tester, D-Mont., was among those calling for a long-term extension of wind production tax credits starting in the new year. He seems to understand that such incentives help encourage new wind power development, and that Montana, as one of the places in the nation with the most wind potential, is in a prime position to gain from increased wind development.
This kind of activity at the state and federal level helps point which way the wind is blowing. But even setting all that aside, PSC Commissioners Bob Lake, who represents the region that includes Missoula, and Travis Kavulla found nothing in the duly negotiated contract between NorthWestern and Greenfield worth killing the deal; rather, they found that the mutually beneficial settlement to be in the best interests of NorthWestern’s 340,000 ratepayers in Montana.
Greenfield officials have said they plan to ask the PSC to reconsider its decision. This time, the three commissioners who voted to deny the deal — Roger Koopman, Kirk Bushman and commission chair Bill Gallagher — ought to pay closer attention to the information provided by their own staff and the arguments of their colleagues on the commission.
Montana may export less coal-powered energy in the aftermath of recently proposed federal restrictions, but that could open the door to a greater economic boost from renewable energy sources, according to a recent economic report.
On Monday, Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics released a report that calculated the renewable energy sector could create as many as 4,000 new jobs in Montana, if the recent Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for power plants are enacted.Last week, the EPA issued guidelines that would reduce coal-generated power in each state by 6 percent by 2030. To compensate, states can choose differing amounts of energy from natural gas or renewable sources or improve energy efficiency.
“Montana has significant potential for energy efficiency and there’s a lot to be done. Energy efficiency is the cheapest resource available, and it reduces the generation required to serve costumers,” said report author Tyler Comings. “But with tremendous wind resources, Montana also has significant renewable energy potential.”In Montana, wind energy is projected to provide more than three-quarters of the jobs, partly because some wind facilities, such as those at Judith Gap, are already up-and-running and partly because wind turbines require not just installation but long-term maintenance.
Energy efficiency upgrades and installation of solar panels need little to no maintenance once they are installed.Now it just becomes a matter of making those jobs appear.Over the past decade, small groups in Montana have been slowly adding renewable energy facilities.Prior to 2005, less than half of 1 percent of Montana’s energy production came from renewable sources other than hydropower. Now it’s up to 5 percent.But the EPA guidelines should give renewable power a boost.
Marty Wilde, WINData CEO out of Great Falls, thinks that percentage will take off in the next five to 10 years, because unlike other states, Montana has a huge wind resource that is available when the most power is needed during the winter.
Wilde was in on the ground floor of the construction of the Judith Gap wind farm. But he’s focused mostly on smaller niche installations because the big power plant projects are still challenging in Montana and the utility company hasn’t made much of an effort to accommodate wind power, Wilde said.
Still, he recently installed a 10-megawatt wind farm in Fairfield.“We’ve seen some investment in wind power in Montana,” Wilde said. “I think the EPA legislation will hopefully affect the appetite of the West Coast for Montana coal power.”
The main coal-power generators in Montana are at Colstrip, and they send about half of their energy to other Western states.A couple of the units could someday be shut down, and with the governors of Washington and Oregon demanding less coal-generated power, more may follow.
Renewable Northwest director Rachel Shimshak said Montana’s ability to ship wind energy out of state is limited by a lack of transmission lines, but if Colstrip units 1 and 2 shut down, wind energy could be poised to move in.Renewable energy is less expensive for ratepayers, coming out to around $34 per megawatt-hour compared to $64 for Colstrip Unit 4.
One argument that opponents use against renewable energy is the lack of constant availability. The wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine constantly and renewable-energy storage is limited.
Shimshak said special batteries aren’t needed if energy is spread across a region and many different sources.“There is a bunch of storage available today. If we can design a market to share resources across state lines and across utility boundaries, a lot of renewables will be able to function,” Shimshak said. ”
For example, wind in Oregon and Washington peaks in the summertime as opposed to that in Montana. So balancing those two, along with other renewables, has a nice effect. Then you just have to plan for the time when they aren’t available.”
The Fairfield Wind project has completed the installation of its first two Turbines. When complete the project will comprise six General Electric 1.7-100 turbines on 80 meter towers. The 10 MW project will sell its power to Northwestern Energy under a 20 year power purchase agreement. The Fairfield Wind was originated by WINData of Great Falls, Montana and is owned in a partnership with Foundation Windpower. The project is being constructed by Dick Anderson Construction of Helena and General Electric.