Operators of the Judith Gap wind-power project said Monday they’ll offer electricity from a proposed expansion to other Montana buyers, after being turned down by the state’s largest utility.
“It’s clean power produced in Montana,” said Doug Carter, senior vice president for Invenergy in Denver. “We think the other consumers in the state will look at this price and say, ‘We want this power.’” NorthWestern Energy, which buys the current output of power from Judith Gap, declined last week to buy power from Invenergy’s proposed expansion of the wind farm.
Carter said Invenergy plans to offer the power to other Montana electricity buyers, such as electric co-ops, or perhaps Avista Corp., a Spokane, Wash.-based utility with 350,000 customers in eastern Washington.
If another buyer were to accept an offer soon, the expansion of Judith Gap could be completed by the end of this year, he added.
Invenergy, which operates the 135 megawatt Judith Gap wind farm north of Harlowton, is proposing to add another 35 wind turbines, which would increase the project’s size to nearly 188 megawatts. Judith Gap is the largest wind-power project in Montana.
One megawatt of wind produces enough electricity for 240 to 300 homes.
NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, buys power currently produced by Judith Gap and incorporates it into the electricity it sells to its 320,000 retail customers in Montana.
NorthWestern officials said they declined to buy more power from Judith Gap because they’re not sure whether they can acquire enough affordable additional power needed to balance more wind power on their system.
“The all-in costs of wind and the ability for NorthWestern to be able to reliably integrate it into our system are questionable at this time,” said John Hines, director of supply for NorthWestern Energy.
NorthWestern is paying Invenergy $30 to $32 per megawatt hour (mwh) for the power now. When other costs of wind are added, such as the balancing power, the projected total cost for Judith Gap wind this year is $41 to $42 per mwh, Hines has said.
NorthWestern residential customers are paying about $61 per mwh this month for electricity.
Carter and NorthWestern declined to reveal the price offer that NorthWestern declined, saying it’s confidential. Carter said it’s a very competitive price.
If utilities or co-ops buy wind power, they need additional sources of electricity to offset the intermittent nature of wind power, to keep their system in balance and to provide enough power for customers when it’s needed.
Carter said NorthWestern has a legitimate concern over being able to have enough power to offset more wind power in its system – especially when federal and state laws require NorthWestern to accept wind power from certain smaller projects.
State regulators are in the process of deciding what NorthWestern may charge these small projects for the costs of adding their projects to the system.
Montana has one of the best wind resources in the country, Carter said, and should have a great future in producing wind power.
By Mike Dennison of The Standard State Bureau
22 April 2008
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