New wind farm planned near Geyser

Gap

David J. Laporte

The Judith Gap Wind Energy Center was developed beginning in 2005.

Allete Clean Energy is planning to build an 80-megawatt wind farm near Geyser under a 15-year power purchase agreement with NorthWestern Energy.

Allete acquired the South Peak project from Peak Clean Energy and expects to bring it online by late 2019.

The project will feature GE wind turbines, combined with 15-year servicing agreement with General Electric, according to a company release.

More information about the energy prices from the South Peak wind project should be available this week, since NorthWestern Energy plans to file notice on Monday with the Public Service Commission.

The South Peak wind farm will be located next to NorthWestern Energy’s existing Spion Kop wind farm and electricity will be fed into NorthWestern’s transmission grid via a direct connection, according to Allete.

NorthWestern currently has just under 450 megawatts of wind capacity on its system now, according to Butch Larcombe, NorthWestern spokesman.

The Allete project is what is known as a “qualifying facility,” the product of the 1970s-era federal law, the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA, Larcombe said. NorthWestern is required to buy power from qualifying facilities, Larcombe said, regardless of whether the company needs it.

NorthWestern has other potential qualifying facility wind-generation projects in the works, Larcombe said, and the company has power purchase agreements with three other projects that could have capacity of about 185 megawatts. With the Allete project, the total is about 265 megawatts of possible added generation, Larcombe said, though there is no guarantee that all the projects will materialize.

In order to qualify for federal renewable energy production tax credits, the project will use wind turbines purchased by Allete Clean in 2016 that meet the standards for the production tax credit “safe harbor” provision, according to an Allete release.

“With more untapped safe harbor capacity and the continued interest in renewable wind energy within the industry, Allete Clean Energy’s deal pipeline remains robust as it answers the call to transform the nation’s energy landscape,”Alan Hodnik, Allete’s chairman, president and chief executive, said in a release.

Wind is becoming a top source of electricity for NorthWestern Energy. The company currently has about 480 megawatts of hydro generation capacity; 240 megawatts of coal-related generation; about 60 megawatts of natural gas generation capacity and 17 megawatts of solar capacity, according to Larcombe.

Those figures are the maximum possible output of the generating plants, Larcombe said, and the actual output is lower.

About 60 percent of the electricity NorthWestern Energy provides to Montana customers comes from renewable wind, water and solar, Larcombe said.

“The coal and natural gas are critical to our ability to provide reliable, affordable service to our customers, regardless of whether the wind is blowing,” Larcombe said. “We needed added generation capacity in Montana to meet regional reliability standards and the daily needs of our customers. While wind can help somewhat, it is highly variable and not always available when we need it the most, often on the coldest and hottest days of the year.”

Jenn Rowell is the founding editor of The Electric, an online newspaper in Great Falls, where this article was first published.

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