Articles from Montana
Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s coal development plans didn’t attract a lot of love Wednesday in a banquet room full of wildlife biologists. Evan Barrett, the Democratic governor’s chief economic development officer, outlined the plans at the annual meeting of the Wildlife Conservation Society, detailing for about 150 people a vision of seven big wind farms, giant methanol plants, five coal-powered electrical plants and a huge grid of electrical wires to gather the juice and carry it to distant markets in California and Arizona. Dan Pletscher, head of the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana, was in the crowd. “I thought to myself, ‘You’re going to do what to this state?’” Pletscher said in a later talk.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants property tax breaks as big as 75 percent for “clean and green” energy development and transmission, part of his effort to develop energy resources in the state. Schweitzer unveiled details on the tax breaks Wednesday, which he hinted at during his State of the State Address last week. A leading Republican in the Legislature said he thought the incentive package would receive bipartisan support.
Democrats last week announced legislation to help establish an energy co-op powered by two windfarms near Fort Peck and Molt. The wind farms would each cost about $16 million and generate 10 megawatts. The farms would have four or five windmills each, depending on how many people buy into the co-op and could be up and running within two years.
House and Senate Democrats proposed changes to state electricity laws Tuesday that they said are needed to jump-start several wind farm projects. The bill by Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, would allow electricity cooperatives to own wind turbines and other energy equipment. Current law limits co-ops to buying and supplying power.
Environmental and transmission concerns have prompted the Texas-based developer of a major commercial wind farm in northeast Montana to propose a much smaller project. Even with the downsizing, however, the Valley County Wind Energy Project still would be the state’s largest.
It’s no Judith Gap, but Missoula does have its pockets of high-powered wind - enough to justify at least a couple of turbines. That’s the conclusion of University of Montana alternative energy researcher Brian Kerns, who has spent the past three years “prospecting for wind resources” in and around the Garden City. He recently wrapped up a 22-month wind study atop University Mountain, the hilltop behind Mount Sentinel, that proves the site is turbine-worthy. Other promising places, he said, include Mount Dean Stone, Pattee Canyon and Hellgate Canyon.
If Montana is going to develop more of its wind, coal, oil and gas, it will need ways to move energy products beyond its borders, and a new state board or authority can help encourage new power lines and pipelines, supporters of the idea said Monday. “It really doesn’t matter what fuel choice you prefer - coal, wind - it needs transmission,” said John Alke, a lawyer representing Montana-Dakota Utilities. “It’s become an all-important choice in fuel selection and site selection (for projects).” Alke and a host of other energy-industry lobbyists and developers testified Monday in favor of House Bill 114, by Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, which would create a state energy “transmission and transportation authority.” The authority, appointed by the governor, would help plan, analyze and coordinate placement and construction of power lines and pipelines to move energy produced in Montana to markets - mostly outside the state. While Gov. Brian Schweitzer has been a vocal promoter of energy development in Montana, his office did not support the bill on Monday.
A state agency charged with protecting the environment holds the key to whether northcentral Montana will become a power mecca with as many as 400 wind turbines erected between Great Falls and Cut Bank along a proposed transmission corridor. The trade-off for losing the undeveloped view, generally paralleling the west side of Interstate 15, would be a steady source of supplemental revenue for landowners and tax revenue for local government. The electricity from the wind farms, however, would be sold to out-of-state power plants, most likely in California, under power-purchase agreements with the wind companies.
The leadership of the Montana House of Representatives has accused the Public Service Commission of trying to skirt consumer protections that became law in 2005. In a letter to PSC Chairman Greg Jergeson, House Speaker Scott Sales and House Majority Leader Mike Lange warned that any attempt to go around the protections built into last session’s Senate Bill 415 would be met by “appropriate action” from the House. The controversy centers around who will pay for the cost of ancillary services associated with small-scale alternative power generation. Those are items related to the generation and delivery of power that don’t include its simple generation, transmission and delivery. Some of those services would include energy loss, energy imbalance, scheduling and dispatching, according to SB 415. Commissioner Jergeson said that in 1993 the PSC decided that facilities that were rated fewer than three megawatts were not on the hook for those costs. None of the current commissioners were serving then. The commission recently ruled that generation facilities with capacities under 10 megawatts would not have to pay ancillary costs.
The new year may bring economic development to Teton County if WindPark Solutions America succeeds in developing a 40-megawatt wind farm east of Choteau. In December, WindPark Solutions representatives Dave Ryan and Wendy Kleinsasser detailed the for-profit power venture to Teton County residents during public meetings in Choteau and Dutton. Altogether, about 38 landowners, county and city officials and interested residents attended the meetings at the Dutton American Legion Hall and the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau. During the presentations in Choteau and Dutton, Ryan, a project manager, said WindPark Solutions has been working on the Teton Ridge wind farm project for about a year and is now unveiling its plans.
A new electricity cooperative dedicated to “green” energy cleared a major hurdle when it received nearly $32 million in tax-free bonding authority from the federal government for a wind farm. But significant hurdles remain before the co-op realizes its goal of supplying Montanans with power that doesn’t pollute. “It’s by no means a done deal,” said Russ Doty, executive director of Green Electricity Buying Cooperative.
City-dwellers may be able to harness Montana's ever-present wind in the next few years. Cheap, reliable and nonpolluting power are some of the lures. "We're the fifth-best wind region in the nation," said Pat Judge, energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. Near Highwood, winds average about 13 mph, said Logan Bryce, who has three windmills in his backyard as test units. The largest, a 10 kilowatt model atop an 80-foot tower, provides more than enough power for the normal household, he said.
HELENA — A majority of Montanans favor large-scale energy development in the state, whether it’s coal or alternative power sources like wind, a Lee Newspapers poll shows. More than 65 percent of those polled said they favor of both types of energy development in Montana, although alternative energy was even more popular.
A bitterly divided Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved new prices for small “renewable” power projects in Montana selling to NorthWestern Energy, with Republicans arguing the decision will cost electric ratepayers more money. Yet Democrats, who made up the 3-2 majority approving the rates, said the prices and standard contract are required by law and won’t increase rates by much, if at all. They also said the decision will help encourage development of small wind-power and other alternative energy projects across Montana.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 Federal Clean Renewable Energy bonds totaling $31.7 million were awarded to the Green Electricity Buying Cooperative. The Montana co-op announced it will use the funds to build two wind farm projects in McCone and Yellowstone Counties that will produce approximately 20 megawatts of clean power.
Montana will receive $72 million in financing for 34 new wind power projects planned mostly by small cities and counties in northeastern and southeastern parts of the state, Sen. Max Baucus announced Friday afternoon. “This is very good news,” the Montana Democrat said at a news conference in Billings. Some of the recipients participated in the conference by video and thanked Baucus for his efforts. Even Baucus seemed surprised with the level of funding, which came through a federal program he crafted, Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS). The bonding program passed Congress as part of the 2005 Energy Bill. “I am just astounded and so wonderfully surprised. Seventy-two million, that’s a lot for our state,” Baucus said.
A staffer at the Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center recently professed mystification over state energy policy. “I don't know why we're not putting as much energy behind wind development as we are to coal development,” he said. The answer is simple. Most people want the lights to come on when they flip the switch, and they don't want to go broke when they do.
The owner of the state’s largest wind farm might build an even larger complex north of Great Falls if a 218-mile merchant transmission line is constructed between the city and Lethbridge, Alberta. The developer of that line says construction could be done by this time next year, assuming government regulators in both countries sign off. The project still is being reviewed by government agencies.
The Montana Public Service Commission has endorsed new policies that could help the development of small, alternative power projects in the state. On two 4-1 votes Tuesday, the commission said small wind, hydro and other renewable electrical power projects will get long-term contracts at a standard rate to sell power to utilities. Such contracts would help the smaller projects obtain financing.
A Canadian company's plan to build electrical transmission lines might provide a way for Idaho National Laboratory to sell nuclear power someday, a lab spokesman says. TransCanada's NorthernLights project includes three electrical transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest by 2012, including two that would run through southeastern Idaho. The two high-voltage, direct-current lines — one from Montana, the other from Wyoming — would come together in southeastern Idaho and weave south to Las Vegas. They will carry energy from coal, wind power and other sources.