Library filed under General from Montana
The Montana Legislature last week tabled an opportunity for the state's farmers and ranchers to profit from wind. By voting at the last minute to table Senate Bill 337, a bill that would have allowed Green Electricity Buying Cooperative to use $31.7 million in bonding authority to build 40 windmills on 40 farms across Montana, Montana legislators put on hold the wind company's plans to put together a bid for clean energy bonds and incorporate 40 ranches or farms involved in producing wind energy across the state.
A proposed cross-border power transmission line connecting electric systems in Alberta and Montana has cleared a major regulatory hurdle in Canada. The National Energy Board, Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Department of Energy, on Wednesday issued a permit authorizing construction and operation of the line in Alberta.
Officials from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality had allotted three hours to hear public comment on the proposed Montana Alberta Tie, Ltd. (MATL) transmission line project. Although approximately 60 people turned out for the hearing, which was held in Cut Bank on Wednesday, March 28, only about a dozen of those offered testimony on the project-the majority of which was very supportive. As proposed, the 130-mile transmission line would extend from the Montana-Alberta border northeast of Cut Bank to an existing substation just north of Rainbow Dam near Great Falls. DEQ has tentatively selected a preferred route, which contains "small revisions" in five areas to reduce impact on property owners. The proposed action by the DEQ also requires MATL to use single pole structures along 24 miles of the line.
Who will spark the gap? With the standby power necessary to smooth the erratic output of Montana's premier wind power facility becoming difficult to come by at any price, the state's energy technocracy wonders. The Judith Gap wind farm is an impressive operation. According to the company that runs it, Invenergy, its 90 turbines stretch 400 feet into the Big Sky when the blades are fully extended, and each one produces enough electricity to power 300 homes. It's a showcase project in Montana's move toward renewable energy. Yet the cluster of dynamos itself faces a looming power shortage. To integrate the Gap's green electrons into the area's power delivery system, a back-up source of power is required. When the wind isn't blowing, the power that is scheduled to come from the farm has to come from somewhere else.
A pair of wind farm projects in eastern Montana are in jeopardy after a bill that would have allowed an electricity cooperative to own generation equipment was tabled Tuesday by House Republicans. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula, would have enabled the Billings-based Green Electricity Buying Cooperative to own $31.7 million in wind-farm projects and sell bonds to finance them. Current law limits the co-op and others like it to buying and supplying power.
A scaled-back version of a large wind farm planned in Valley County northwest of Glasgow was released Monday for public comment. The developer wanted a 500-megawatt facility, but the new plan calls for 170 at the Valley County Wind Energy Project project. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management asked for a revision after environmentalists complained about the wind turbines being too close to the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, said Gary Evans, the CEO of GreenHunter Energy Inc.
Because NorthWestern operates the transmission lines, the utility must meet federal reliability standards. That means keeping the power entering the system balanced with the demand, or electricity leaving the system. You might imagine wind power as a child playing with a light switch: On. Off. On. Off. That means NorthWestern must quickly dump or add power to balance its transmission lines. When the turbines at Judith Gap produce too much power, NorthWestern sells it back mainly to Idaho Power, sometimes below cost, according to former Royal Johnson, a Billings businessman, a former state senator and a member of The Gazette editorial board. When there isn't enough wind, NorthWestern may have to pay a premium, Johnson said, of up to $130 per megawatt hour. .........Montana has tons of proposed power projects cued up, Gates said, but one project depends on the other. "They need transmission built, and the question is which gets built first," Gates said. "So it's the chicken-and-the-egg thing." Another note of caution was sounded by Bill Drummond, who heads the Western Montana Generation and Transmission. His customers buy wholesale power from BPA, but those contracts run out in four years. Drought and rising demand is tapping the hydropower resources, so BPA is keeping its supply for its closest customers. Right now there are few sellers of electricity to back up wind power, Drummond said. "Faith-based power marketing is a dangerous thing," he said.
A Senate panel controlled by Democrats voted Saturday to shelve Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer's proposal offering tax breaks to "clean and green" energy development in Montana. The Senate Taxation Committee voted 7-2 to table Senate Bill 562, advertised by the Schweitzer administration as its signature proposal this session on energy development. It wasn't clear Saturday whether or how the bill might be revived before a procedural deadline early next week. Evan Barrett, the governor's chief economic development officer, said late Saturday that there is broad public support for the idea and that he hopes the bill can be revived and moved through the Legislature. "The bill is on the table; it is not dead," he said. "It's not an easy path right now, but we think everyone will be able to work their way through it.
Supporters of a bill designed to let an electricity cooperative pursue two wind farm projects in Eastern Montana like to say it gives "a green light to green energy." But opponents, including NorthWestern Energy and the state Public Service Commission, testified Monday that only Montana power consumers will see "green" - in the form of higher utility bills. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula, would enable the Billings-based Green Electricity Buying Cooperative to own $31.7 million in wind farm projects and sell bonds to finance them. Current law limits co-ops to buying and supplying power.
VIRGINIA CITY - A California company is moving forward to build a wind farm on Norris Hill in Madison County that could produce enough electricity to power 45,000 homes. Les Brown, a principal with Zebuln Renewable Energy LLC, told county commissioners Tuesday that his company has already leased more than 10,000 acres from area ranchers to build up to a 70-windmill farm, enough to generate up to 150 megawatts of electricity. The project would come with a $150 million price tag and provide an economic boost to the county.
Wind turbines will be built at the Highwood Generation Station, but they can't serve as SME's primary source of electricity, SME General Manager Tim Gregori said. Wind doesn't blow all the time. But customers expect to be able to flip a switch or have their appliance powered whether or not there is a breeze. That leaves coal, hydropower, natural gas or nuclear power as sources. Coal is the most economical and feasible among those choices, Holzer said. "With 25 percent of this nation's coal supply in Montana, it needs to be a part of our energy picture," he said.
The preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement on a proposed transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, recommends changes to soften its impact on landowners. When constructed, the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. line would provide the state with 300 megawatts of electricity-transmission capacity. It is expected to spur construction of up to four wind farms in northcentral Montana, which would use the line to ship power to homes and businesses in Montana and Canada. The State Department of Environmental Quality released the study late Friday afternoon.
The co-owner of a Montana wind-energy company said the company’s purchase by a Spanish energy business could lead to the development of a wind farm twice as big as the one at Judith Gap. Bill Alexander, who founded Great Plains Wind & Energy with Dave Dumon in 2005, said Friday that the business has been sold to Naturener, a company that has developed wind, solar and hydroelectric projects in Spain. Great Plains had been working to develop a 120-megawatt wind farm near Cut Bank, in Glacier and Toole counties. The acquisition by Naturener will make it possible to expand that to 300 megawatts and accelerate the construction timetable, Alexander said. The footprint of the proposed farm and the number of megawatts would be almost exactly double that of the Judith Gap project, he said.
The Montana Public Service Commission voted 4-1 Jan. 29 to oppose a Montana Senate bill that would allow a renewable energy cooperative to move forward with plans to create two wind power generation sites, the PSC chairman told the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. In a note of explanation, the author of SB337, Russ Doty, wrote, “This legislation is needed to allow the Green Electricity Buying Co-op (GEBCO) to own the windmills that it has received authorization to finance with zero interest Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs). Without this legislation the $31.7 million in CREBs authorizations will be forfeited and likely reassigned to other states.” Mr. Doty is the executive director of the Billings-based co-op. The co-op plans to use the bonds to build two 20-megawatt wind farms in Montana. One site would be south of Fort Peck on the Towe Farm in McCone County. The other facility would sit near Molt Road in Yellowstone County, a press release said.
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.