Wind Site Prospecting
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
A silver inverter box in the basement of First United Methodist Church in Great Falls will take direct current from electricity generated by photovoltaic solar panels on the roof and turn them into alternating currents suitable for the power grid and powering the church.
Excess energy the system generates will cause the meter to spin backward, and NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest utility, will purchase it from the church. Ken Thornton, an early backer of solar energy and the church’s building manager, led the project, with the PV panels installed in the summer. It will begin working next month.
“It’s funny, this is where they used to store the coal,” said Thornton one day last week, pointing out a nearby room where circles still remain on the ceiling indicating manholes where coal from wagons was once dropped into the facility and burned in boilers.
Power generation at the church is evolving thanks in part to net metering, a billing system in which surplus energy generated by a customer’s solar, wind or hydro-power system goes back on NorthWestern’s electric system with the customer receiving credit at retail rates. The 8-kilowatt rooftop solar system at First United will save an estimated $1,500 a year in energy costs.
Net metering has been around in Montana since 1999. It’s designed to encourage rooftop solar and other small renewable power generators that are easier on the environment. In Montana, customers of investor-owned utilities, such as the church can take advantage of it.
Expanding it to spur even more solar, wind and hydro projects at residences, farms and ranches, housing, businesses and even neighborhoods is a hot topic at the 2015 Legislature, spurred in part by the plummeting cost of solar.
“Renewable energy standards are kind of old hat,” said Kyla Maki, clean energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, of the green power standards that dominated past energy policy discussions at the Capitol. “We’re now talking rooftop solar.”
The benefits of increasing net metering, Maki added, will go to the increasing number of people who are interested in investing in renewable energy systems on their property.
Some Republicans are joining conservation groups and companies in the renewable energy business in supporting an expansion of net metering in Montana.
“This is a freedom bill,” said Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman. “It would allow for energy freedom, so you don’t have to buy power from a monopoly utility that decides how they are going to generate it. You can decided how you are going to generate your own power.”
Wittich is sponsoring a bill that would increase the allowable output of a renewable energy system eligible for net metering credits from the current 50 kilowatts to 1 megawatt.
Businesses that sell solar and wind systems see an opportunity to boost their businesses, create jobs and install more renewable systems at farms and ranches and multi-unit housing.
“You have to strike while the iron is hot,” said John Foster, a community wind specialist for Moodie Wind Energy in Great Falls, a subset of Moodie Implement, who sells wind and solar systems. “That’s really it. And net metering hasn’t been upgraded here in Montana since its inception.”
The legislation would provide incentive for farmers and ranchers to install larger systems that generate more power, making upfront investments more economical, Foster said. And allowing larger turbines will open up new geographic markets for him because they are more cost-effective even in areas with less wind, he said.
Foster also is a big supporter of a bill that would allow a customer generator participating in net metering to carry forward remaining unused kilowatt-hour credits from a solar or wind system and apply excess credits to separately metered accounts.
This bill is important to farmers and ranchers who often have several meters on their land for their home, out-buildings or water pumps for irrigation and stock water, Foster said. Right now, only a single meter can receive credits.
Efforts to expand net metering were shot down in 2013, Foster noted, but the “political climate is right” this session with more conservatives on board.
NorthWestern Energy, which has 345,000 electricity customers in Montana, sees the expansion as corporate welfare, said John Fitzpatrick, chief lobbyist for NorthWestern Energy.
Last week, Fitzpatrick told a legislative committee that net metering had grown to industrial proportions in other states with big box stores such as Walmart becoming the largest beneficiaries.
“Net metering is not a business plan,” Fitzpatrick said. ‘It’s a welfare program, and it’s the worst kind of welfare Democrats hate.”
About 1,200 residential and small business customers of NorthWestern currently have net meters, and the utility has been instrumental in the installation of net-metered systems in Montana over the past two decades, NorthWestern spokesman Butch Larcombe said.
“If anybody says we’re opposed to net metering, that just isn’t accurate,” he said.
Each customer of the utility pays a universal system benefits (USB) charge as a result of the original net metering legislation in 1999, he said, and that funding is used for a number of programs, including providing grants to those who install renewable energy systems, he said.
As a result, many of the people who have installed solar panels on their roof, or a wind turbine, are being subsidized by other NorthWestern customers, Larcombe said. Moreover, he added, when they use the electricity they generate to get a credit, it reduces what they pay to maintain the power grid even though they continue to use it, shifting the costs to other customers.
He also noted that NorthWestern is overpaying net metered customers because it buys the power at retail, which is a higher cost than the cost the utility would pay for the power on the market or the cost of generation.
A broader conversation is in order about the state’s net metering policy to make sure it’s fair to everybody, and that’s why NorthWestern opposes the legislation, Larcombe said.
Gary Wiens of the Montana Rural Cooperatives’ Association also brought up concerns about cost shift to a legislative committee last week.
Wittich doesn’t buy the cost shift argument.
Increasing the net meting cap means people could build larger renewable systems and get credit for them, he said. And ore people want to use solar at business, apartments, neighborhoods and residences, yet the criteria to take advantage of the credits is arbitrary, Wittich said. Right now, he said, only a fraction of the electricity produced in the state is “homegrown energy,” and that’s low compared to other states.
Wittich’s bill increasing the cap on the size of the home grown energy systems that could receive credits is just one of 10 or so bills aimed at expanding net metering in one form or another.
Based on lobbying for and against the bills, Wittich says net metering is among the top 10 issues of the legislative session.
The bill that would allow credits to be applied to separate meters is sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls.
Fielder told members of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee that she had taken an interest in homegrown renewable energy systems because they help Montanans become self-reliant.
“It promotes self-realization and energy independence for the little guy,” she said.
Mike Huber, a 45-year-old rancher who lives south of Great Falls, said he’s investigated putting up a wind turbine. But he’s refrained because right now he could only receive credits for one meter if he invested in a renewable system. But he has six meters alone at one address and “obviously I can’t afford to put a solar or wind generator at each one.”
He supports legislation allowing excess credits to be applied to additional meters.
Rep. Randy Pinocci, R-Sun River, is sponsoring legislation that also would increase the cap on the size of renewable systems that could receive credits in territories served by rural electric cooperatives.
Pinocci said he decided to take action in the Legislature because he wanted to put a larger wind turbine on his property, but couldn’t because of a cap under the current rules. He called the cap “a joke” because smaller turbines do not produce enough energy for farming and ranching operations to justify the investment.
“The bigger your wind turbine, the easier it is to pay for it, and the more money you make,” he said.
Renewable energy has been seen a Democratic issue, Pinocci said, but Republicans are getting involved now and he doesn’t care whether it’s a Republican of Democratic issue. In his view, limits on the size of renewable energy projects in areas served by rural electric cooperatives is discouraging investment in renewable projects in rural areas. Pinocci, a freshman, said lawmakers shouldn’t be influenced by lobbying from NorthWestern or rural cooperatives.
“If any representative votes against my bill, I believe the constituents are going to say, ‘No way, what you did was a mistake,'” said Pinocci.
Conservation groups such as MEIC, the Northern Plains Resources Council and renewable energy organizations are rallying the troops in support of the legislation. The Helena-based Alternative Energy Resources Organization, or AERO, put out an “action alert” about a hearing today in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee about a bill from Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman.
The Montana Neighborhood Net Metering Act would allowed neighborhood energy facilities to connect to a utility’s distribution system. Businesses and individuals could then buy into the system.
First United Methodist Church installed the 8-kilowatt PV panels this past summer . In the future, Thornton hopes to put more panels up to increase the output to 25 to 30 kilowatts, which would cover the church’s yearly electricity bill of $5,000. The cost of the first phase was $15,000.
Over the past five years, the price of solar panels has dropped 80 percent as the result of the recession and competition from China, Thornton said. That and innovations in the manufacturing processes has resulted in less expensive and more efficient solar panels, he said.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said Thornton, 60, who holds a mechanical engineering technology degree from Montana State University. “So at this point, it’s becoming real economical to put solar panels on buildings.
The church’s roof sits at a 45-degree angle, and it faces south. The ideal slope for catching the sun’s rays in Great Falls is 47 degrees.
“Oh, it’s perfect, Thornton said.
The amount of electricity generation allowed under the current net metering system for NorthWestern customers is adequate, he said. The church does not need to install a larger system to meet its electricity needs, Thornton said. He wants to make sure Montana doesn’t lose the net metering it already has for residential and small commercial systems.
But Thornton supports the neighborhood net metering legislation, and the bill that would make it easier for net metering projects in rural areas.
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Karl Puckett at 406-791-1471, 1-800-438-6600 or email@example.com. Twitter: @GFTrib_KPuckett.
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.
Fairfield Wind ready to go online mid-May 2014
Published on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 15:43
Martin “Marty” Wilde
Turbine #3 operating at the 10MW wind project near Fairfield, Montana. the project was developed by WINData LLC of Great Falls Montana, financed by Foundation Windpower and constructed by Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls. The output will be sold to NorthWestern Energy under a 20-year contract.
Installing a blade on the hub on Fairfield Wind turbine #5, a General Electric 1.7-100. Work conducted by Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls.
Installing the nacelle on Fairfield Wind turbine #5, a General Electric 1.7-100. Work conducted by Dick Anderson Construction of Great Falls.