September 1, 2013
Montana, Opinions

Creative use of wind energy factoids keeps Montanans in dark

Guest column by Joe Lukas | Missoulian |

On Aug. 9, the Missoulian printed a guest column by Jeff Fox headlined “BPA policies work against Montana wind energy.” Fox is a wind advocate for Renewable Northwest Project, a Portland, Ore.-based organization that advertises itself as “a forceful advocate of renewable energy development.” Unfortunately, being a forceful advocate in this case allows for creative use of selected “factoids” that could both literally and figuratively keep Montanans in the dark.

While there is great value in wind projects like Spion Kop, the electricity generated from wind projects is not equivalent to Colstrip 4 generation. You may have already guessed as much, but it bears repeating that electricity from wind cannot be dispatched and is as variable as the wind used to generate it. Do you know anyone willing to sign up for a service that is available 1/3 of the time with its availability determined by Montana’s weather?

The column provides further misinformation by attacking BPA’s rate decision on the Montana Intertie which is the

500-kilovolt transmission line complex running from Townsend to Garrison, Montana. These facilities were built to support the expansion of the Colstrip facilities in the 1980s. Because the purpose of the line was to transmit power to customers in the west, BPA has always treated the line as a separate segment. There is nothing discriminatory about the rates applied since the benefits of the line are confined to the parties that use it and there is simply no justification for applying these costs to the broader transmission network that serves BPA’s customers throughout the Northwest.

Fox also claims that BPA is dragging its feet on an additional

600-megawatt upgrade to the capacity of the high voltage transmission line. He incorrectly claims that this would require no new wires or transmission footprint. The potential upgrade will require a new transmission substation west of Missoula and BPA is currently performing an Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Montana to Washington upgrade. Cost estimates for the upgrade are in the range of $150 million. Fox also undercuts his own arguments by correctly identifying that there is 184 MW of unused transmission capacity yet claims that BPA (and ultimately its ratepayers) should carry the risk of investing in 600 MW of additional transmission.

During the recently concluded rate case, BPA concluded that Montana wind generation is already competitive with Columbia Gorge wind generation. So Fox would have BPA’s customers funding speculative overbuilds of transmission when there is no demand for the 184 MW of transmission already available. During the rate case, the Renewables Northwest Project tried similar arguments but could produce no information that Montana wind would be more competitive by eliminating the rate and pushing these costs onto ratepayers. The actual impact of the Montana Intertie rate is a mere 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour or 2 percent of the 5 cents per kWh cost of Montana wind from Spion Kop.

BPA has proven itself a leader in the integration of wind energy and currently provides dispatchable resources through clean, renewable Columbia River hydropower to make more than 4,500 MW of wind usable to the Northwest 100 percent of the time. More than 100,000 electric consumers in Montana get their cost-based power from BPA through 6 electric cooperatives and a tribal utility. Of course, Fox needs to omit this important fact as he attacks BPA and seeks to increase your BPA rates.

Joe Lukas of Missoula is general manager for Western Montana G&T.

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