Library from Montana
Aside from agreeing that Montanans deserve affordable energy, local candidates for the state Public Service Commission disagreed about everything else during a Billings debate Wednesday. Incumbent Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, and challenger Ron Tussing, D-Billings, debated the merits of wind energy ...Wind power is intermittent; it comes and goes with the blowing wind. When the wind dies down, utilities have to have a backup source of energy available, the commissioner said. Molnar said the backup energy has to be bought on the spot market, where rates are most expensive.
Florida-based FPL Energy, the nation's largest wind farm owner, is prospecting along Montana's wind-swept Rocky Mountain Front as it pursues an aggressive goal nationally of adding 10,000 megawatts of additional wind power to its portfolio. "The short answer is, 'Yes, we are interested,' but it's going to be a long time before we would be in a position to be able to put anything on the ground, if ever," said FPL Energy spokesman Steven Stengel, of Juno Beach, Fla. James Carney, an FPL Energy land specialist based in Bend, Ore., visited the area a month ago, when he met with landowners and elected officials in Teton and Pondera counties to gauge interest and look for available land.
If they are going to "talk the talk," it is time to "walk the walk." The foreign windmill promoters that are covering Montana like a swarm of locusts will be more than happy to sign you up for a giant industrial wind plant (subsidized by taxpayers) that you expect the rest of us to live with.
The current production tax credit provides a 10-year, 2.1 cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax write-off. But the report argues a key difficulty facing prospective community wind developers is their lack of a large enough tax liability to take full advantage of the federal tax incentives, which makes it financially difficult to complete projects. Larger wind developers, meanwhile, used the tax break to shatter an industry record in 2007 by installing 5,244 megawatts of wind generation nationwide.
NorthWestern Energy said it is seeking permits for a natural-gas-fired power plant near Anaconda, Mont., and hopes to start building the plant next year. ...The $206 million plant would be used to stabilize the electric grid and allow NorthWestern to take more wind power onto the system, company officials said. ...PSC Commissioner Ken Toole welcomed the permit application. He said such a plant could allow for the production of more wind power plants, which require so-called "firming" power to fill in the gaps when winds are not blowing.
According to Dave Ryan, president of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, Montana is ranked No. 5 among the states in terms of wind resources. "There is pretty good potential here," said Ryan, "particularly the down slope winds along the front range." Ryan stresses that the secret to tapping wind energy, as with real estate, is location, location, location. "Wind is very microclimate-sensitive, which means it can vary greatly from one area to another. Just because your neighbor has a productive wind turbine is no guarantee that you will."
The groundbreaking for a multi-million dollar wind turbine manufacturing facility in Butte planned for this fall is now set for spring 2009. [The] Governor's Office of Economic Development said the project is definitely moving forward, however an overwhelming demand for turbines elsewhere has delayed the project temporarily. "Right now they are opening a brand new plant in Germany. Of course they are not a huge company, as a result of that, their focus is on that,getting that done successfully and being able to take care of three or four things going on.
Glacier County Commissioners Michael DesRosier and Ron Rides At The Door approved distributing $100,000 of NaturEner's $188,943 Wind Generation Impact Fee to the Glacier County Road Department for operations in FY 2008-09. The action came during the commissioners' session on Monday, Aug. 18. Chairman John Ray is on vacation and did not attend Monday's meeting nor did Clerk and Recorder Glenda Hall who is attending a conference this week.
Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. was granted a permit from the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board on Tuesday to construct the Canadian stretch of a 215-mile electrical transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge. The line is expected to spur wind farm construction in northcentral Montana. The EUB permit was the final OK needed for the Alberta portion, which makes up about 40 percent of the entire project, said Bob Curran, an EUB spokesman. Canada's National Energy Board previously approved the plan. "It means they can construct and operate the line now," Curran said.
The Alberta Utilities Commission's approval Tuesday of the proposed Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. line was the final Canadian permit needed for the 240-kV AC line, which would interconnect electricity markets and carry 300 MW north and south. The commission said the proposed line satisfied its conditions, including a process for negotiating disputes with landowners. ...Wind farm developers in Alberta and Montana have fully subscribed the line for marketing power both north and south.
Wind power's intermittency as an energy resource but minimal contributions toward peak-capacity needs are further evidenced in operational data from three Washington and Montana wind farms. Monthly and even daily energy production vary substantially. Officials from NorthWestern Energy and Puget Sound Energy recently shared these and other wind-power experiences, including reserve requirements (challenging) and wind forecasting (improving). These tales come from the 135 MW-capacity Judith Gap wind farm in central Montana, whose entire output NorthWestern buys from developer Invenergy Wind, and PSE's 150 MW-capacity Hopkins Ridge and 229 MW-capacity Wild Horse wind projects in southeastern and central Washington, respectively. ..."The relationship between load and wind output is almost zero," the former council member told the current council. "That's a real issue for us. We continue to learn almost every day some things about wind operations on our system."
Coal mines always have been big business. Wind farms are getting to be. And when heavy-hitting companies such as North American Coal Corp., Minnesota Power and Florida Power and Light are eyeing an area of real estate, you bet it's consequential. The real estate isn't paltry; it's a lot of acreage in Oliver and Morton counties. Minnesota Power and FPL want to build separate wind farms. But the coal company says, "Wait a minute, we may want to mine where you guys are talking about putting up wind turbines. That won't work."
A single wind farm located in a scenic setting outside this rural Canadian town was featured on a postage stamp three years ago. Today, the cumulative stamp of hundreds of turbines on the views of wide-open farmland and majestic mountains here is an increasingly sticky issue. "How many is too many?" asked Rod Zielinski, a municipal district councilman in Pincher Creek, 250 miles north of Great Falls. Last year, the district unsuccessfully tried to create a wind development-free zone in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Now it's proposing changes to its bylaws to address "cumulative effect." ...Some residents value tax revenue and jobs more than vistas, and vice versa, Zielinski said. Weighing these equally important but sometimes competing values is the contentious issue in regulating the siting of wind plants, he said. "Be prepared for these things [turbines] to be there forever, like the bank downtown," he said.
An estimated 1,200 bats, most of them probably just passing through Montana, were killed after striking wind turbines at the Judith Gap Wind Farm between July 2006 and May 2007, according to a post-construction bird and bat survey. The number surprised Invenergy, which owns the farm, as well as government and private wildlife experts. "It's killing 1,200 bats a year and that's a lot more than anybody anticipated," said Janet Ellis of Montana Audubon, a bird conservation group. ...The study estimates that 406 birds, or 4.52 birds per turbine, were killed during the study period.
However, not all Montanans are ready to raise their glasses. Among the skeptics is Ursula Mattson of East Glacier. She said she is all for the benefits of wind development, but worries about a potential downside, mainly "the negative impact of these huge wind farms right in front of the most spectacular scenery in our country." ..."We don't have much authority over wind farms," said Kristi DuBois, native species coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Missoula. She likens the state's current level of knowledge about the wind industry and its potential effect on wildlife to what was known about the impact of hydro-electric facilities on rivers and fish when they were first constructed. For example, the state has very little information about migration pathways of bats, she said. Without that information, it's difficult to for the state to provide input on the siting of facilities to lessen bat fatalities from turbine blades, she said.
Spain-based NaturEner, a renewable-energy company that recently entered the North American market, officially broke ground Thursday on the first phase of a 210-megawatt wind farm on the hills between Cut Bank and Shelby. The electricity produced from the $500 million wind farm, which will be the state's largest, is bound for California, company officials said. Construction began in the spring, but Thursday was the official debut of the project for the public. The fanfare brought NaturEner officials to northcentral Montana from the company's international headquarters in Madrid.
Montanans have long dealt in water, mineral and oil rights. But for the past few years, landowners like the Phippses have been leasing their "rights" to the wind. ..."Only about one third of the projects ever make it to market." Hamlen and others cite two key bottlenecks facing wind development in Montana. First, transmission capacity is nearly maxed out. And second, a shortage of turbines continues to plague the industry. In light of the state's current situation, Hamlen cautions landowners against empty promises.
But no matter what legislators might wish, wind energy is not the same as traditional fuel. And while the relative cost of wind can be debated to no end, its biggest inconvenience is well-known: integration. Also known as wind firming or wind-stabilization, integration requires that fuel-based energy kicks in when the wind dies down, allowing for the uninterrupted flow of power to consumers. Integrating the wind thus requires a second power source, officially referred to as the regulating reserve capacity. The primary argument between the TDW and NWE is simple: Who should pay to integrate the wind?
Alberta farmers who hope to halt construction of a major power transmission line proposed between Great Falls and Lethbridge were granted permission Thursday to appeal the $150 million project to the Alberta Court of Appeals. "The only way we're ever going to stop this line is to win an appeal and get the decision overturned," said Scott Stenbeck, an attorney representing 16 farmers who live in the Lethbridge and Warner areas. Marc Clark, president of the line's developer, Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Toronto-based Tonbridge Power Inc., said the ruling may delay the project, but it won't stop the proposed line.
As wind power gears up in Montana, the effects of large-scale wind projects on wildlife remain a concern: Birds may be in the clear, but bats are running into trouble. Turbine-related fatalities at Judith Gap Wind Energy Center near Harlowton were 1,206 bats and 406 birds, according to a 2007 preliminary study prepared by TRC Solutions' Laramie, Wyo. office. Roger Schoumacher, a biologist and consultant for TRC, said the bat fatality count is higher than what generally occurs in the West.