Second wind farm going up near Fairfield
Karl Puckett, firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.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 file Unopposed Joint Motion to Settle Before the Montana PSC
Greenfield Wind, LLC and NorthWestern Energy presented an unopposed joint settlement to the Montana PSC for approval in November 2014, and although there was not opposition at the hearing on December 1st, the settlement was inexplicably denied in mid December by an 11th hour surprising reversal ruling.
The December 16th Decision denying the Unopposed Stipulation appeared to result from past commission chairman Gallagher, who did not attend the December hearing, placing his personal opinion and politics ahead of Federal and State law and ahead of the best interests of Montana rate payers.
In response, on January 8th, Greenfield Wind filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which is currently before the Montana Public Service Commission and presents a critical question of whether the Commission will approve of a Qualifying Facility negotiating with NorthWestern to obtain reasonable long-term avoided cost rates as directed by PURPA and supported by recent rulings from FERC and Montana State Courts, or whether the Commission will subject the parties, and quite possibly the Commission itself, to further litigation.
After eight months of work on the contested case and the settlement, the December 16th last minute reversal decision to deny the unopposed settlement was not only surprising but unlawful, unjust, and unreasonable, and should thus be reconsidered for the following reasons:
- First, the record abundantly supports a conclusion that the rates and terms contained in the Stipulation are consistent with, and likely significantly below, any reasonable current estimate of NorthWestern’s actual avoided costs. The Commission Staff’s analysis demonstrated that 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. Rejection of the Unopposed Settlement unreasonably deprives NorthWestern’s customers of the benefits of these favorable rates.
- Second, Greenfield Wind submits that the avoided cost rates will be significantly higher if Greenfield is forced to fully litigate its claim to a legally enforceable obligation (“LEO”) at the Commission and any subsequently necessary judicial proceedings – thus subjecting NorthWestern’s customers to higher rates than those offered in the Unopposed Stipulation.
- Third, 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.
- Fourth, the rejection of the negotiated rate between NorthWestern and Greenfield will launch the parties and the Commission back into unnecessary and costly litigation.
If a state chooses to regulate electric utilities, it must implement the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC”) regulations under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”) (16 USC § 824a–3(f)(1); FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U.S. 742, 751, 102 S.Ct. 2126, 2133 (1982)).
FERC’s regulations, which are adopted by ARM 38.5.1902(1), require state commissions to implement PURPA in a way that requires a utility to purchase energy and capacity from QFs at the full avoided costs of the purchasing utility (Amer. Paper Institute, Inc. v. Amer. Elect. Power Serv. Corp., 461 U.S. 402, 415-18 (1983)).
The Montana Supreme Court has explained: “PURPA requires large utilities to purchase energy from smaller qualifying facilities at rates that allow the small facilities to become and remain viable suppliers of electricity.” (Whitehall Wind, LLC v. Montana Pub. Serv. Comm’n., 355 Mont. 15, 16-17, 223 P.3d 907, 908-09 (2009)).
FERC’s regulations also permit a QF and an electric utility to enter into a contract containing agreed-to rates, terms, or conditions. 18 C.F.R. § 292.301(b). FERC has explained that “a contracted-for-rate would never exceed true avoided costs and would thus be consistent with PURPA.” (Cedar Creek Wind LLC, 137 FERC ¶ 61,006, at n. 73 (2011) (citing Order No. 69, 45 Fed. Reg. 12,214 (1980))).
This rule “recognizes that the ability of a qualifying cogenerator or small power producer to negotiate with an electric utility is buttressed by the existence of the rights and protections of [FERC’s] rules.” (45 Fed. Reg. at 12,217)
FERC has rejected state implementation schemes that stand as an impediment to such amicable contract formation (Grouse Creek Wind Park, LLC, 142 FERC ¶ 61,187, at P 40 (2013)) and some courts have reversed state commission decisions rejecting agreed-to PURPA rates (Pub. Util. Commn. Of Texas v. Gulf States Utilities Co., 809 S.W.2d 201, 208-09 (Texas 1991)).
Montana’s “mini-PURPA” further instructs the Montana PSC. It declares: “Long-term contracts for the purchase of electricity by the utility from a qualifying small power production facility must be encouraged in order to enhance the economic feasibility of qualifying small power production facilities.” (M.C.A § 69-3-604(2) (emphasis added)).
The Commission’s own rules provide, “Each 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.” (ARM 38.5.1905(2)).
However, the MPSC has also implemented a rule that requires QFs sized over 3 megawatts (“MW”) to prevail in an all-source competitive solicitation to obtain a long-term contract (ARM 38.5.1902(5)). Because NorthWestern has not been compelled to regularly hold such solicitations, FERC declared this rule constitutes a failure to implement PURPA’s bare minimum requirement to make long-term avoided cost rates available to QFs (Hydrodynamics, 146 FERC ¶ 61,193, PP 32-35 (2014)).
The Montana courts have likewise faulted the Commission for failure to provide reasonable avoided cost rates to QFs (See Whitehall Wind, LLC, 355 Mont. at 18, 223 P.3d at 909 (reversing rate determination where “the PSC’s own staff economist contradicted the PSC’s rate determination”)); (Whitehall Wind, LLC v. Montana Pub. Serv. Comm’n, Cause No. DV-03-10080, Remand Order (Mont. 5th Dist., May 21, 2014) (again reversing the MPSC’s subsequent order)).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Greenfield has been seeking a long-term contract under PURPA with NorthWestern since 2010. It has spent substantial sums of time and money to develop its wind project in reliance on federal and state law. But those efforts have been stymied since at least 2010 by the Commission’s rules prohibiting such long-term contracts for projects over the eligibility cap for standard rates and outside of the 50-MW cap for wind projects.
NorthWestern states that it filed the original Petition in this case at the PSC because the Commission has not authorized it to enter into long-term contracts outside of an all-source solicitation. In the absence of a Commission-approved methodology to calculate long-term rates for Greenfield Wind’s project, the parties engaged in extensive and costly discovery and contested proceedings over the most appropriate methodology.
Through the Commission’s proceedings and discovery processes, Greenfield was able to review NorthWestern’s data and calculations. In doing so, 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 largely be bridged. Additionally, a contested transmission cost issue became moot when Gaelectric’s senior transmission requests were withdrawn and removed from the transmission queue – further bridging the gap between the parties.
Thus, Greenfield and NorthWestern were able to negotiate a rate that was derived using NorthWestern’s method of estimating the avoided costs. The net Stipulation/Settlement rate is approximately $50.49/MWh if Greenfield pays NorthWestern for integration, or $53.99/MWh if Greenfield delivers a wind integrated product. Due to NorthWestern’s near-term long position, Greenfield agreed to delay the commercial online date for the full contract rate until 2016, and will only be paid $19.99/MWh (minus integration costs) for any generation delivered in 2015.
In light of the fact that NorthWestern is a regulated utility and the Commission has approved no methodology to calculate large QF rates, such approval is necessary for the project to move forward without further delay.
On December 1, 2014, the Commission held an evidentiary hearing on the Stipulation. Multiple rounds of testimony from Greenfield and NorthWestern and all data requests were admitted into the record for purposes of evaluating the Stipulation. All of NorthWestern and Greenfield’s witnesses were made available for live or telephonic cross examination. The Montana Consumer Counsel (“MCC”) and LEO Wind, Inc. both attended the Stipulation hearing. Neither of them opposed the Stipulation or requested post-hearing briefing to challenge its terms.
On December 16, 2014, the Commission held its work session on the Stipulation.
The Commission’s Staff presented a memorandum summarizing the terms of the Stipulation, including five market benchmarks against which to compare the Stipulation rate. Each of Staff’s five benchmark rates were higher than the Greenfield Wind rate. Thus, Commission Staff recommended approval of the Stipulation.
The PSC Commission’s Staff explained: The reasons to approve, would be that the rate appears to reasonably approximate avoided costs. It would avoid expenditure of further resources by all parties, including the Commission, on this matter. It would signal that NorthWestern can negotiate with large QFs, and that the PSC will implement rates for large QFs.
In fact, the Commission’s Staff explained that its portfolio comparison benchmark analysis, using the same inputs used to model the PPL Montana Hydroelectric Projects (“PPL Hydros”), demonstrated that “having Greenfield energy as part of the portfolio saves the portfolio costs.” But the Commission voted to reject the Stipulation by vote of three to two.
Former Commissioner Gallagher, as well as Commissioners Koopman and Bushman voted against the Stipulation, while Commissioners Kavulla and Lake supported approving the settlement.
==January 12, 2015
Marty Wilde, WINData LLC
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.
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.
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As incoming Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Wyden will play a major role in deciding which direction Congress goes.
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