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 130-megawatt Judith Gap project sells its power to NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric utility.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer hailed the news, saying in a press release that it would “increase Montana’s commercial wind power production by more than 200 percent.”
“It is a major step forward when a credible wind power development company like Naturener takes advantage of Montana’s world-class wind power potential,” Schweitzer said.
Alexander said Friday that he and Dumon had worked for two years to put together what is known as the McCormick Ranch Wind Park, bringing it to the point where it needed only financing.
They talked to representatives of Naturener about obtaining funding from the Spanish company, Alexander said, and “they liked the project so well they simply decided to buy the company.”
Alexander said the wind farm doesn’t have to clear any more regulatory or permitting hurdles.
As soon as it obtains access to transmission lines, construction could begin, he said.
The company is working with the developers of a transmission line that is proposed to run from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Great Falls. That line, known as the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., would have a 230-kilovolt capacity, meaning it could ship 300 megawatts of power north to Canadian markets and 300 megawatts south to U.S. markets.
Alexander said Naturener hopes initially to obtain capacity on the northbound line, and eventually to ship power south as well.
The growing interest in wind development has caused a backlog on orders for the turbines that generate the power, but Alexander said Naturener’s contacts in the industry have “accelerated the availability of those turbines.”
Asked how soon construction could start at the wind farm, Alexander said they could break ground this summer if transmission were available.
Tom Ring, with the Department of Environmental Quality in Helena, said an environmental impact statement on the Montana Alberta Tie Line is due out within the next month. The DEQ would not be able to approve the project until reviewing the statement and any public comment received.
That point could be reached by late spring, he said, and it probably wouldn’t take much longer for the project to receive the other blessings it needs – including a U.S. Department of Energy permit to cross the Canadian border and approval from the Alberta Energy Board and its national equivalent.
Claudia Rapkoch, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy, said she didn’t know anything specific about the Cut Bank-area project, but that news of the sale to a Spanish company is more evidence that “the world is taking notice of Montana.”
“There is a lot of interest in Montana, and that is a very important component in our sale. There is a lot of potential here,” she said. The Australian firm of Babcock & Brown Infrastructure has proposed buying NorthWestern for $2.2 billion.
Alexander said he will be the chief development officer for Naturener, in charge of all North American projects, while Dumon will manage the Montana projects for the company.
Besides buying Great Plains Wind & Energy, Naturener has also acquired 100 percent of the share capital of Energy Logics Inc., which is developing wind-energy projects in southern Alberta.
A press release from Naturener said its American and Canadian companies hope to develop an estimated 1,800 megawatts of wind energy in Montana and Alberta. Naturener is owned by the Belgian Industrial group SAPEC, a Spanish savings bank and a private investor based in New York.
By Ed Kemmick
Of The Gazette Staff
24 February 2007
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