NorthWestern Energy Corp. has given the green light to Compass Wind of Denver to begin construction of a 40-megawatt, 25-turbine wind farm on private rangeland between Geyser and Raynesford, an area known for exceptional wind.
NorthWestern, Montana’s largest public utility, will take ownership when the wind farm begins turning out electricity by the end of the year, company spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said.
NorthWestern announced Tuesday that it had issued a “notice to proceed” to Compass Wind to move ahead with construction of the wind farm, named Spion Kop after an early settlement in the area.
Chris McCall, president of Compass Wind, said preliminary work, such as construction of roads, will begin next week. Foundations will be poured in early May and delivery of General Electric turbines will begin in July. The project is scheduled for completion in October.
The wind farm is being constructed north of U.S. Highway 87 in Judith Basin County, about 40 miles southeast of Great Falls.
“It’s exceptional, actually,” McCall said of the area’s wind.
Compass Wind’s niche is constructing smaller wind farms that can quickly be integrated onto the transmission system in areas with low environmental impact, McCall said.
The company also has other projects in Montana in the works.
“We hope to have another 30-, 40-, 50-megawatt project in three or four years, maybe two,” McCall said. “It just depends on the demand side.”
Rapkoch said electricity produced at Spion Kop will enable the utility to meet the state’s 15 percent by 2015 renewable energy standard. The project was submitted to NorthWestern by Compass Wind in response to Northwestern’s requests for renewable energy projects as part of its attempt to meet renewable energy requirements.
The utility is regulated by the Montana Public Service Commission. The PSC approved the placement of the $86.1 million wind farm into the company’s regulated rate base in February, allowing NorthWestern to pass on the cost of building the wind farm to ratepayers.
Currently, about 13 percent of the utility’s energy portfolio is made up of renewable energy sources, with the rest coming from hydroelectric and coal-fired power sources, Rapkoch said.
McCall said utilities historically have purchased power, often produced at coal-fired plants, via contract, but a shift is occurring, with utilities investing more in their own wind projects.
“You are going to see more and more utilities owning it just to diversify their portfolios at the end of the day,” McCall said.
Rapkoch said investing in wind lowers the “environmental risk” because of the possibility of a tax on carbon emissions, such as those from coal-fired power plants, being enacted in the future.
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