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.
Alberta Breaks Wind Power Record, Then Does It Againin News Departments > New & Noteworthyby Joseph Bebon Tuesday July 29 2014print the content itemCanadian province Alberta broke its wind generation record not once, but twice, last week. Between 11 a.m. and noon on Thursday, July 24, Alberta produced an average of 1,188 MW of wind power. The province then surpassed that on Friday, July 25, peaking at an average of 1,255 MW between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Before last week, the previous record was set on May 29, with an average of 1,134 MW.Angela Anderson, a spokesperson for the Alberta Electric System Operator AESO, explains that the most recent records were due to a combination of very windy days and new wind farms. Specifically, she says the 300 MW Blackspring Ridge project, which went online in Vulcan County in May, “allowed the system to produce more wind than ever before.”According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association CanWEA, Alberta is home to over 1.4 GW of installed wind capacity and ranks third among the country’s provinces. Tim Weis, the association’s Alberta regional director, says the new wind production records are certainly noteworthy.“This is significant, not only because it was just this past April that Alberta broke the 1,000 MW plateau for the first time, but [also because] Alberta’s electricity system is showing that it can integrate large amounts of wind energy seamlessly,” states Weis.He also mentions that the AESO lifted a 900 MW threshold for installed wind capacity in Alberta in 2007, and now wind production has peaked at over 30% more than that original limit.Furthermore, it appears wind power is poised for growth in Alberta. “There is a lot of interest in wind development in the province, and that’s expected to continue over the coming years,” comments Anderson. She says the AESO currently has 15 active wind projects totaling about 2.1 GW in the grid operator’s connection queue.Overall, the AESO anticipates wind capacity to nearly double over the next 20 years from approximately 1.4 GW to 2.7 GW. “In fact, by 2034, we are forecasting Alberta will have more wind power than coal-fired generation on the system.”Nonetheless, Weis says most new power generation in the province will likely come from natural gas, not wind. “Alberta is facing two issues simultaneously,” he explains. “First of all, federal regulations require that coal units retire when they reach their 50th birthday. Alberta’s market is over 60 percent coal, and the first units will start to hit their 50th birthday this decade.“At the same time, Alberta’s system operator is forecasting significant growth in electricity demand over the next two decades, largely as a result of the growing oil sands industry. Several independent forecasts suggest that the vast majority of new electricity supply will come from natural gas to fill this gap.”Weis points out that the price of wind power isn’t the reason, though, as the AESO estimates wind energy within 7% of gas costs. The truth is, natural gas is simply easier to build in Alberta’s electricity market because “it can more easily bid into the market and respond to changes in future costs.”But there’s a problem: Weis says forecasts suggest a big switch to natural gas will eventually undo the environmental benefits gained from closing down coal plants, with greenhouse-gas emissions starting to increase again in just over a decade.Weis argues that although the AESO has proven it can handle more and more renewable energy on its grid, the province still needs “a new policy framework that recognizes the benefits of renewables so that we can continue to see wind grow in Alberta.”
NWE seeks to pay indie power producers far less than it asks consumers to pay for damsPrint EmailDennisonBuy NowDennisonJuly 27, 2014 12:00 am3 CommentsHELENA – NorthWestern Energy and its regulator, the Public Service Commission, are rightly getting plenty of press on the company’s proposal to pay $870 million for a dozen hydroelectric dams.But another energy issue involving both entities is flying well under the radar — and has the clear potential to affect small, independent power projects in many parts of rural Montana.The issue is how NorthWestern buys power from these small wind and hydro projects, which, by law, are entitled to contracts if they meet certain requirements.When it buys power from these projects, NorthWestern includes the electricity in the mix it sells to its 340,000 electric customers in Montana.The project developers say their plants offer power that’s sometimes cheaper than what NorthWestern produces, that provides some competition to NorthWestern’s power-generation, and brings development to rural areas.If the PSC approves the dam purchase as proposed by NorthWestern, customers will be paying the company about $60 per megawatt hour for power produced by the hydroelectric dams it owns.But in recent filings before the PSC, NorthWestern is saying it should pay the independent projects only $40 a megawatt hour for their power.This discrepancy has small project owners hopping mad, and crying discrimination. The power company, they say, knows if such rates are approved by the PSC, the small power projects will never be built, because they can’t be financed at that price.NorthWestern, which has often resisted such projects, simply wants to own as much generation as possible, which means more profit for the company, and discourage any competing, independent producers, they say.Small-project developers also point their finger squarely at a majority of the PSC, saying it has repeatedly let NorthWestern get away with undermining federal law that requires small projects to be able to sell their power to the local utility, at a fair price.They note that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled in March that the PSC has taken illegal actions making it difficult or impossible for some small power projects to get a contract — and that the PSC has done little or nothing to correct those actions.PSC Chairman Bill Gallagher, a Republican from Helena, says he hasn’t seen a need to rush into a decision, in response to the FERC ruling, and that the PSC must fully consider howrates and conditions for the small-project contracts will affect the company and consumers.He also says he has a problem with how federal law grants “preferred status” to small power projects selling renewable power. Competition among projects should be the determining factor, he says.FERC, however, disagreed, saying the law requires contracts to be awarded at a rate set by the PSC, tied to what the utility would have to pay to buy or develop similar power elsewhere. It said the PSC cannot arbitrarily limit the amount of wind projects that get condtracts, and cannot require projects to enter into competitive bidding that, in reality, seldom occurs, and which they never win.Still, the PSC appears finally to be moving forward on the issue, likely holding a work session later this summer to respond to the FERC ruling and related items.Commissioner Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, says he expects the PSC to change its rules to comply with the FERC ruling and look for a way to treat both the power company and the small-project developers equitably.“We do not want to send the message that we want to see NorthWestern’s portfolio include their own hydro plants but that it doesn’t have room for small independent power projects,” he says.NorthWestern also has acknowledged the FERC ruling, but, at the same time, is asking the PSC to lower the price NorthWestern must pay for a proposed 25-megawatt wind project near Fairfield and other projects, to the $40 per megawatt hour range.Company spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch says the dams that NorthWestern wants to buy are more valuable resources than the small power projects, and therefore command higher rates.The company wants to ensure that any power it buys from small producers is at a price that reflects the current market, and can be reliably delivered, she says.Yet Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, says actions by NorthWestern seem discriminatory against the small producers, and that he hopes the PSC will take a hard look at the issue.“I think we need to consider righting the situation so we can be fair to all players,” he says.Mike Dennison is a state reporter for Lee newspapers.
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!.