HELENA – A Montana wind-farm operator says NorthWestern Energy used a flawed process to choose a more expensive wind project that may be charged to ratepayers, while excluding a cheaper expansion of the operator’s wind farm at Judith Gap.
Yet the criticisms from Invenergy – operator of the one of Montana’s largest wind farms – might not be considered by regulators when they decide whether to approve NorthWestern’s purchase of the other project.
Early last month, Invenergy withdrew as an official party in the case before the Montana Public Service Commission, saying its participation had become too expensive.
A week later, NorthWestern Energy asked the PSC to strike Invenergy’s comments from the record, calling them “self-serving allegations” that are false and attempt to unduly influence the commission.
The sharp exchange between Invenergy and NorthWestern, the state’s largest electric utility, is part of the PSC case that will decide whether to approve NorthWestern’s acquisition of a proposed $86 million wind farm east of Great Falls.
NorthWestern wants to buy the project from developer Compass Wind, which proposed the 40-megawatt wind farm in response to the utility’s 2009 request for potential renewable power projects.
If the PSC approves the purchase, the project would become part of NorthWestern’s electric “rate base” for its 330,000 customers, whose rates would reflect the cost of the project and a profit for the company.
The PSC has scheduled a Dec. 14 hearing on the proposed purchase.
Invenergy has been operating the 135-megawatt Judith Gap wind farm since 2005, selling its power to NorthWestern Energy under contract. Invenergy has been trying to convince NorthWestern Energy for some time to agree to buy power from a proposed expansion of Judith Gap.
Invenergy became a party in the PSC case earlier this summer, allowing it to submit testimony on NorthWestern’s choice of Compass Wind as a new wind project that the company wanted.
Last month, Invenergy Vice President for Development Michael Baird said in testimony that NorthWestern “eliminated the most economical renewable resource project available to it” by refusing to consider an expansion of the Judith Gap facility.
NorthWestern said it wanted more geographical diversity in its wind-energy portfolio, but then chose Compass Wind, whose “wind regime” is the same as Judith Gap’s, he said.
Baird also said NorthWestern allowed Compass Wind to update its proposal with newer, more modern wind turbines, thus making it less expensive than other proposed projects that weren’t allowed to factor in the newer turbines.
“NorthWestern Energy excluded an expansion of Judith Gap from consideration with disregard for the cost impact to its ratepayers,” he said.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 27, Invenergy withdrew from the case. The withdrawal notice from Baird also had an attached letter to the commission, in which he said the Judith Gap expansion would have provided lower-cost power, and outlined the specific costs.
On Nov. 4, NorthWestern filed a request to strike the letter and other Invenergy comments, saying the company had made “false and misleading assertions” in an attempt to stop development of the Compass Wind project.
NorthWestern Energy lawyer Al Brogan said that because Invenergy has withdrawn from the case, its statements amount to “hearsay” because they are unsworn testimony that cannot be subject to cross-examination, and therefore should be ignored.
The PSC has yet to rule on NorthWestern’s request.
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