NorthWestern says it's merely trying to manage its electricity supply and prevent unneeded costs of these contracts from being foisted onto consumers.
"There is a limit on how much (wind power) we can have and still have a reliable portfolio for customers," said John Hines, NorthWestern's vice president of electric supply. "There is only so much intermittent (power) supply we can have in our portfolio without substantial changes that we must make."
A bill that would roll back some of the eminent domain powers granted by the 2011 Montana Legislature was debated Tuesday in Helena before a packed house at the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.
In a clear reference to wind power, Gallagher said all five of the PSC's Republican members "campaigned against the concept of using the utility bill to force Montana's families and employers to be unwilling investors in high-cost, low-output, intermittent generation and other programs that at present can exist only through government mandates and substantial tax and ratepayer subsidies."
The wind-power production tax credit pays project owners $22 for every megawatt hour (mwh) of electricity they produce.
In the Pacific Northwest right now, spot-market prices for electricity are averaging $25 per mwh. So, while sellers of other types of power get $25 per mwh, a wind-power plant will get $47 per mwh, with the subsidy.
Van Jamison, a vice president for Gaelectric, an Irish firm developing several wind projects in Montana, says in the past few months, scores of potential wind projects here have withdrawn their spot from the queue for transmission of their power, meaning they've pulled back on their plans.
"This is not a very robust market, where you'll be able to make any kind of money any time soon."
After PPL Montana announced a plan to mothball its J.E. Corette power plant in Billings, likely eliminating 35 jobs and dealing a blow to the local economy, some blamed federally subsidized wind power as the culprit. ..."The wind was brought in to create jobs and to clear carbon emissions, but they've done neither," Winger said. "We're subsidizing a type of industry that can't make it on its own and replacing jobs with unsustainable work."
The Montana Audubon Society says 10 species of raptors have been documented breeding at Kevin Rim, including ferruginous hawks, Swainson's hawks, prairie falcons, and golden eagles. The area is also home to nesting American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, great-horned owls, and burrowing owls.
The utility said it couldn't achieve full compliance because of the unavailability of projects and unforeseen circumstances in which projects fell through ...One of those projects was the Big Otter wind farm, which NorthWestern dropped it, citing environmental concerns.
When it comes to species of concern, there's a lot to look at. Researchers want to document where active nests are using pictures and GPS coordinates. They want to know what kind of birds are in the area, and how they use the habitat for hunting and raising their young.
The hawks and eagles have been here for generations, they've grown accustomed to the habitat. Now, construction and wind turbines are changing the landscape. "One of the ways that wind turbines come in conflict with birds of prey is the chance of collision, where they'll fly in, and they can be killed by the turbines," Platt says.
"Two Republican commissioners, Bill Gallagher of Helena and Brad Molnar of Laurel, voted against approving the project, saying that allowing NorthWestern to buy the project and charge the costs to ratepayers transfers too much risk to the customer. ...NorthWestern and could shift the risk of its variable costs away from the consumer by arranging to buy just the project's power.
Swandal's ruling says MATL has the right to use eminent domain, but the judge still must decide whether the power line is a "necessity" and a "public use." The court will hear oral arguments on those questions March 2 in Teton County.
Early last month, Invenergy withdrew as an official party in the case before the Montana Public Service Commission, saying its participation had become too expensive.
A week later, NorthWestern Energy asked the PSC to strike Invenergy's comments from the record, calling them "self-serving allegations" that are false.
"The MATL experience to date raises questions about the sufficiency and effectiveness of internal controls that Western had in place," the report stated. "The stalled wind power transmission project is clearly at risk with the outcome uncertain. In the event of a project failure, Western and ultimately the U.S. taxpayer could bear a large financial burden."
But Friedman said that the project "raises questions about the sufficiency and effectiveness of internal controls" at Western Area Power Authority. "In the event of a project failure, Western and ultimately the U.S. taxpayer could bear a large financial burden," he wrote.
State District Judge John McKeon in Helena said in his Oct. 5 ruling that the DNRC did not adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the turbines, among other shortcomings.
DNRC director Mary Sexton said Tuesday the department was still reviewing the decision.
NorthWestern Energy's Mountain States Transmission Intertie would carry 1,500 megawatts, much of it wind power, from central Montana to Midpoint, Idaho.
But to do it, the 500-kilovolt line, known as MSTI, must cross a 430-mile mishmash of lands owned by residents, ranchers, farmers, counties, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Energy Department.
The proposal has stirred a fierce debate in the state.
Like many landowners in Montana, Stephens and Maurer said it would make a big difference if the MATL line was designed to deliver power to Montanans instead of being shipped elsewhere.
"It would make a hell of a difference," Maurer said. "The local people wouldn't treat you this way."
Tonbridge Power Inc. has had its ups and downs trying to build a power line between Lethbridge and Great Falls.
It has regulatory approval to finish the power line, but company officials said in June that Tonbridge stood about $25 million short in financing to finish the project.
Last year, NorthWestern Energy launched an open-season process to identify potential buyers of energy sent along MSTI. It's had to extend the deadline due to a lack of interest. "There is confusion in the Western market," says Mike Cashell, NorthWestern's vice president of transmission. ...We're still confident and hopeful that the market can absorb generation from Montana."