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A $500 million next-generation wind farm paired with battery storage is making its case to service NorthWestern Energy customers, as the utility questions the energy price and benefits of the Columbus-area project.

Caithness Beaver Creek has plans to build four 80-megawatt projects using a combination of the wind turbines and batteries. The company’s vice president, Derrel Grant, told the Montana Public Service Commission on Tuesday that the batteries will level out the “sawtooth” nature of wind generation, which fluctuates with the weather.

Portions of the Beaver Creek project are in hearings before the commission this week. Each individual project within the Beaver Creek plan is being proposed as ‘qualifying facility’ that under federal law is entitled to a contract with a utility, but at a negotiated price. It’s the price that’s the major sticking point between Caithness and NorthWestern.

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NorthWestern has long argued that wind energy be priced lower than energy from other sources like coal, gas and hydropower. Wind power isn’t always available when demand for energy is highest, which makes the energy worth less, the utility argues. Witnesses for NorthWestern have recommended pricing Beaver Creek power on a sliding scale that on the high end is about one-third the price Caithness has suggested.

Caithness has asked that Beaver Creek’s electricity be priced at the same rate NorthWestern’s customers pay for electricity from the David Gates gas-fired power plant or Colstrip Unit 4, both assets owned by the utility.

For Columbus, the Beaver Creek projects present job creation and a significant increase in tax revenue for Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties. Construction jobs are expected to number 350. Taxes on the wind farms are expected to be $4 million a year.

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