wind plant operations
Choteau Acantha Article – Industrial wind farm has broken ground in county–pub 3-30-16–
Choteau, Montana March, 30, 2016
By Nancy Thornton, Choteau Acantha reporter
A second industrial wind farm has broken ground southeast of Choteau, even as a wind farm half the size located on the new project’s western boundary was sold to a New York-based renewable energy investment company.
Teton County Commissioner Jim Hodgskiss said a Greenfield Wind LLC official, Matt Wilson, notified him that contractors would break ground during the week of March 20 for a 15-turbine wind farm next to the six-turbine Fairfield Wind project that was completed in May 2014.
The Teton County commissioners last summer approved a 10-year tax abatement for the proposed $47 million Greenfield Wind project while denying an abatement for the $19 million Fairfield Wind project.
Subsequently, Fairfield Wind appealed the state Department of Revenue’s determination that Fairfield Wind had a $19,118,781 market value. The matter is now before the Montana Board of Tax Appeals with all “discovery” documents due by April 25 and the hearing set for July 19.
Fairfield Wind’s 2015 tax bill was $323,569.83, an amount, with some later adjustments, that was paid under protest.
The Fairfield Wind farm is located in the Choteau elementary and high school districts and the proposed Greenfield Wind farm is in the Power High School and the Greenfield Elementary School districts.
Revenue officials estimated that Greenfield Wind would generate an estimated annual tax bill in the neighborhood of $863,000 under the cost approach, although with the tax abatement set for 50 percent during the first five years, local governments would receive only half of that.
Wilson works for Foundation Windpower LLC that owns a majority-member equity interest in Greenfield Wind LLC. The minority member of Greenfield Wind is Fairfield resident Martin Wilde who developed both wind farm projects under his company, WINData LLC.
Wilson and Wilde did not respond to invitations for telephone interviews.WINData has filed two lawsuits against Foundation Windpower in Teton County District Court that Judge Robert Olson recently dismissed. However, WINData has appealed the two cases to the Montana Supreme Court.
In December 2015 Foundation Windpower sold its interest in the Fairfield Wind project (the legal entity at that point was called Fairfield Wind Master Tenant LLC) to Greenbacker Wind LLC, which is a business created by Greenbacker Renewable Energy Corp. and Greenbacker Renewable Energy Co. LLC of New York, New York.
Greenbacker, in a December press release, said it acquired the Fairfield Wind project for $6,615,000 in cash and the assumption of $12,412,000 in debt for a total of $19,027,000 on Dec. 8, 2015. It is a “publicly registered, non-traded limited liability company that expects to acquire a diversified portfolio of income-producing renewable energy power plants, energy efficient projects and other sustainable investments,” according to its website.
The wind farm has two 1.6-megawatt and four 1.7-megawatt turbines. The generated electricity is sold to NorthWestern Energy under a long-term power purchase agreement that has 18.5 years remaining on the contract.
Greenbacker, citing the project as a “fund portfolio” for its investors, forecasts a 10.7 percent initial yield on the investment, but cautioned in its literature that that yield is not a measure of the fund’s performance and it is not necessarily indicative of distributions that the fund may provide to investors.
Wilde has had disputes with Foundation Windpower since mid-2015 and in court documents said he filed a notice of dissociation with the Fairfield Wind entity over Foundation Windpower’s refusal to supply him with accounting information, among other things. He refused to sign off on Foundation Windpower’s proposed monetary value of WINData’s 10- percent equity interest in Fairfield Wind and he declined to agree to the sale.
However, Foundation Windpower’s attorney Stephen Brown of Missoula successfully argued in Olson’s court in February that the operating agreement the pair of companies signed required that the dispute be brought in a California forum, not one in Montana.
Brown successfully argued a similar point when in July 2014, the Montana Supreme Court found in favor of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., (against Naturener USA that owns wind farms in Glacier and Toole counties) determining that the “consent to conduct all” provision of the first contract between the two parties required the parties to litigate all disputes Industrial wind farm has broken ground in county–pub 3-30-16– 2 pertaining to that contract in California. Brown represented San Diego Gas.
In a similar way, Olson dismissed Wilde’s lawsuit against Foundation Windpower, first in the dispute over Fairfield Wind, and second, over the Greenfield Wind
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GFTrib_KPuckett.
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.
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.