montana wind energy
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.
Fairfield Wind Project To Rise From The Plains
Posted: Mar 24, 2014 5:25 PM MDT
Updated: Mar 24, 2014 8:52 PM MDT GREAT FALLS, Mont. AP –
Construction crews working on the 10 megawatt Fairfield Wind Generation Project have braved cold and snow to prepare the site north of Fairfield for the installation of six wind turbines to harness the steady winds that blow out of the southwest. Now, if the wind would just give them enough of a break to start raising the towers, turbines and rotor blades.
Project manager Dave Rogers says the rest of the work on the project will be scheduled around the weather, and some work may be done at night when the wind doesn’t blow so hard. The $19 million project is co-owned by San Francisco-based Foundation Windpower and WINData, a wind energy consulting and project management firm in Great Falls.
All six turbines are scheduled to be complete by mid-June.
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.
Following news that U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., will take over as new chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Iowa State Senator and Climate Parents member Rob Hogg plans to send a petition urging Wyden to take action by extending the production tax credit (PTC) immediately.
Climate Parents, a national organization of families advocating for climate change solutions, is spearheading the campaign and says that about 50,000 people have signed the petition.
“We must support wind power and renewable energy,” says Hogg. “Our children and our grandchildren are counting on Congress to act.”
The senator also notes, “Wind power currently provides 25 percent of Iowa’s electricity generation and has increased nationally by 30 percent per year over the past five years. The wind power tax credit made this possible.”
The petition is available here.
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!.