Library from Montana
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.
Glacier County Commissioners are discussing how to use nearly $190,000 in impact fees from a planned wind farm near Cut Bank. Commissioners were supposed to approve allocation of the fees June 9, but a decision was tabled until Glacier County attorney Larry Epstein could attend the meeting, according to the Cut Bank Pioneer Press.
Butte Local Development Corporation's Jim Smitham says consultants need until mid-July to gather more information. He says the extension is not a sign that the project has stalled. So far preliminary results show growth in the wind energy market by 20%, and Fuhrlander is building more plants in Europe to meet those demands. Smitham adds that's a good sign for the $25-million investors are investing for the Butte plant.
Travelers driving Interstate 90 west of Big Timber may one day glimpse wind turbines at the Coyote Wind project. But well in advance of that day, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is seeking comments on the proposal that would occupy a state school section roughly 11 miles west of Big Timber, four miles northeast of Springdale and two miles north of Interstate 90 and the Yellowstone River. ... Bollman said the DNRC is trying to address any concerns upfront. Since the development of Montana's first major wind farm in Judith Gap, the public has become more engaged in the process,
The state's largest wind farm, under construction immediately south of this Hi-Line town, will be finished in five months, officials with the San Francisco-based company said at the site Wednesday. Glacier Wind Project, which will produce 210 megawatts of electricity, is being constructed under the direction of general contractor Mortenson Construction out of Minneapolis. Spain-based NaturEner, whose U.S. headquarters are in San Francisco, is the owner/operator.
Wind power, unlike electricity generated by a coal-burning plant or a hydroelectric dam, is intermittent. It comes and goes with the blowing wind. It's not entirely unpredictable, but it cannot be controlled by a switch. Therefore, when wind is added to the mix of electricity on our local grid or power system, the system operator - in much of Montana, NorthWestern Energy - has to be able to call on additional power from a ready, reliable source to keep the system in balance when the wind power abates. Montana utility managers and regulators must determine the true cost of acquiring and managing this additional power if we're going to have more wind on our system and more wind power projects in the state. ...The project developers say they're willing to pay, but only if NorthWestern or someone produces credible data that determine those costs accurately for a given project. Data from Judith Gap, a large wind farm in one location, are not applicable to projects of varying size around the state, they say.
A new breed of prospector is scouring Montana's hills, but wind is the resource it seeks. Before these prospectors harvest that gold in the sky, however, they've got to secure the real key to the mother lode - permission from landowners to build towering wind turbines the size of a Boeing 747. Across the state, from Circle in the east to Ennis in the west, the race is on to lock up the best sites by courting landowners and sealing deals for exclusive rights to explore and develop wind power. Hundreds of thousands of acres already are under lease to foreign and U.S. wind developers.
For competitive reasons, wind companies don't disclose what they're paying landowners to lease property for wind farms. Oftentimes, landowners sign confidentiality agreements when leasing their property for such ventures. However, leasing information is public when school trust land is involved. ...Michael Sullivan, property management section supervisor for the Real Estate Management Bureau of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the state is considering leasing an additional 6,820 acres of school trust land to four wind projects.
NorthWestern Energy has declined an offer to buy additional power from the Judith Gap wind farm, whose operators have proposed expanding the 135-megawatt project. "We don't think it's in the best interests of our electricity supply portfolio to acquire that (expanded) project at this point in time," said John Hines, director of supply for NorthWestern. NorthWestern sent a letter this week to the project owner, Invenergy, declining its offer, Hines said.
Small Montana wind energy producers are challenging NWE's proposal to charge them more for "integrating" their product into the portfolio. The wind producers contend that the costs NWE wants them to pay are more than what "integrating" their electricity actually costs. Further, the wind energy producers say NWE's proposed pricing could put them out of business. NWE has said that its customers will have to pay these costs if the wind energy producers don't. In its portfolio proposals, NWE assumes a carbon tax will be implemented in the future, making coal a less appealing source than in the past. The proposed portfolio also assumes the customer will increase energy conservation.
State utility regulators indicated Tuesday they'll support charging small wind-power projects in Montana for the cost of adding their power to NorthWestern Energy's electric system that serves 320,000 Montanans. ...NorthWestern had proposed charging small projects anywhere from 16 percent to 44 percent of their entire income from power production. Developers have argued that the cost of adding their power to the system is minimal or nothing at all, and that the charges proposed by NorthWestern aren't supported by credible data and would kill development of small projects. The charge is for "integration costs," which are what the utility pays for additional power it says it needs to keep its electrical system in balance when accepting intermittent wind power.
Dutton resident Katrina Martin says an international power line proposed, in part, through Pondera and Teton counties in northcentral Montana is being built on the backs of the farmers. Martin has voiced her concern about the diagonal portion of the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd.'s proposed private transmission line since the company announced the project in December 2005. The 215-mile, 230-kilovolt power line project to be built between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alta., is in the final stages of regulatory approval on both sides of the border. An environmental impact statement was published this spring that outlines three possible routes for the line in Montana. MATL is a Calgary, Alta.-based energy transmission company whose ...The existing economic development, namely farmers on the ground, has to pay a "terrible price for the speculative proposal that wind farms would be developed," Martin said. ...The line's routing options have been known to MATL for months, Martin said. "If Alternative 2 is the only one that can be considered, what's the point?" She said MATL had an "irresponsible attitude" when it comes to route selection.
Developers of small wind-power projects in Montana have their eyes on the Public Service Commission this week, as it may decide a crucial price issue affecting their ability to succeed. NorthWestern Energy, the state's dominant electric utility and the primary purchaser of wind power in Montana, wants to charge small wind farms for the cost of "integrating" their power into the NorthWestern system, which serves 320,000 customers. The utility says if wind-power developers don't pay that cost, then NorthWestern consumers end up absorbing it. "To have a cost shifted to ratepayers, I don't think is in their best interest," says John Hines, chief supply officer for NorthWestern.
The owner of Montana's largest operating wind farm, near Judith Gap, has proposed adding 35 turbines, which would increase its power-production capacity nearly 40 percent, officials at NorthWestern Energy confirmed. Invenergy, based in Chicago, has pitched the expansion to NorthWestern, the utility buying the electricity currently produced by the wind farm north of Harlowton in central Montana. NorthWestern should decide soon whether it wants to buy power that would be produced by the additional turbines, said John Hines, chief supply officer for NorthWestern. "We're evaluating their offer and looking at it (versus) other electricity portfolio alternatives," he said Thursday.
Plans for a 133-turbine wind farm and associated 10 miles of transmission line north of Valley City in Barnes County will be heard by the Public Service Commission at back-to-back hearings May 2 in Valley City. Ashtabula Wind, a project of Florida Power and Light, needs site authorization to construct the wind farm, which will generate 200 megawatts of electricity. It also needs authorization for the transmission corridor to build a 230 kv line to hook up to Otter Tail Power. The company asked the PSC to hold a joint hearing, but the agency said it wanted to hear each application separately.
Major improvements are planned along a deteriorating 74-year-old electricity transmission line between Great Falls and Havre, state and federal officials said Monday. "It'll keep the lights on," Tom Ring of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said of the upgrades. A secondary benefit of the upgrade is it could increase capacity for future wind development, said Sam Miller of the Western Area Power Administration, which owns the line. ...The larger line could serve as an interconnect for wind developers seeking access to the federal high-voltage transmission system, he said. Wind farm developers say their plans are constrained because there's not enough room on existing power lines.
Cascade County commissioners on Tuesday approved a tax break for United Material's Horseshoe Bend wind facility, the state's second largest wind farm located outside of Great Falls. Approval came over the objections of union heads, who said United shouldn't qualify for a tax break because it did not pay all of the workers on the wind farm project prevailing wages. United Materials countered that prevailing wages were offered for the vast majority of the work. ...Horseshoe Bend, which was completed in 2006, was the second commercial-scale wind facility completed in Montana, behind the 135-megawatt farm in Judith Gap. The approval of the tax break followed a public hearing on the tax break request. Three union representatives spoke against it.
Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday in typically feisty fashion, saying he will be battling well-funded opponents who want to "silence" his voice against special interests. Molnar, a Laurel Republican representing the PSC's southeastern Montana district, said he has spent four years fighting - and sometimes losing - battles on behalf of consumers, voting against actions he says have raised electric and gas rates. ...When asked which "high-ranking politicians" he has exposed as raising utility rates and taxes, Molnar pointed to the federal tax credit for wind power producers. The credit could go to wind power developers in northern Montana that plan to sell power to Canada, thereby using federal tax credits to subsidize power consumed by Canadians, he said.
A public hearing on what would be the first merchant transmission line between Canada and the United States drew 100 residents to Great Falls on Tuesday, with economic development officials and elected officials singing its praises and farmers raising concerns. ...For the state to approve the project, the DEQ's Tom Ring said it must find that the line has a minimal impact on the environment and is consistent with regional plans for expansion of the electric grid, while serving the public's interest. The state has only denied one transmission project in the past. Como said MATL would be the first merchant line between Canada and the United States. There is one small line connecting Mexico and the U.S. Traditionally, transmission was constructed by regulated utilities, such as the old Montana Power Co. In the case of a merchant line, a company builds the transmission, and separate power generator entities pay to use it.
Small wind power producers in Montana said Thursday that NorthWestern Energy wants to overcharge them for adding their power to the system that serves NorthWestern electricity customers. Small power project developers said that if the state Public Service Commission doesn't force NorthWestern to come up with a more realistic charge, wind power producers likely will take their business to other states. "I'm not going to be around, because the free market is going to tell me to go to Idaho," said Russ Doty of Billings, chief executive officer of New World WindPower. Doty spoke at a PSC hearing Thursday in Helena, where Two Dot Wind of Billings is asking the commission to reject NorthWestern's proposed cost of "integrating" power from Two Dot's wind turbines near Martinsdale and Livingston.