The developer of a proposed wind farm near Fairfield asked the Montana Public Service Commission on Thursday to reconsider its prior denial of a power purchase settlement with NorthWestern Energy, which has blocked the project.
Greenfield Wind LLC of Fairfield hopes to construct the wind farm by this fall, said Martin Wilde. Greenfield is a partnership between Wilde, the CEO of Fairfield-based WINData, LLC and Foundation Wind Power in San Francisco.
The wind farm’s 15 General Electric turbines would produce 25 megawatts of electrical generation capacity. That’s enough to power 5,000 to 7,000 homes annually. The turbines would be 262 feet tall, which is 26 stories, with 328-foot-long rotor blades, a bit more than a football field. That would make them the largest turbines in Montana, Wilde said.
The Greenfield wind farm is planned eight miles northeast of Fairfield, just east of the 10-megwatt, six-turbine Fairfield wind project. That project became operational May 17. WINData and Foundation Wind Power also partnered on that project, and NorthWestern is purchasing that power.
Greenfield will be located on dry, non-irrigated land leased from four landowners.
PSC members voted 3-2 Dec. 16 to reject the settlement agreement on the power purchase price between NorthWestern and Greenfield.
Wilde said the decision came as a surprise, and Greenfield on Thursday filed a motion asking the PSC to reconsider. NorthWestern also filed a motion asking the PSC to clarify why it denied the power purchase agreement.
“It gives Greenfield the opportunity to basically take a bite at the apple with a different proposal,” said Brad Johnson, the chairman of the PSC.
Johnson was not on the commission during the first vote.
Wilde is hoping for a different result the second time around.
The 25-year purchase agreement calls for NorthWestern purchasing the power for $53.99 per megawatt hour, Wilde said. Greenfield would pay $3.50 for wind integration services, making NorthWestern’s net purchase price $50.49 per megawatt hour. Wind integration is necessary for grid reliability.
NorthWestern used a price of $58.32 per megawatt hour as a benchmark when it asked for approval from the PSC to purchase hydroelectrical facilities from PPL Montana, Wilde said.
“We’re coming in cheaper than the benchmarks, and that discount flows to NorthWestern’s ratepayers,” he said.
Along with the clean power, construction of the wind farm will produce local jobs for engineers, electricians, cement companies and surveyors and taxes for Teton County, he said.
It would be built by Dick Anderson Construction out of Great Falls, which also built the first wind farm.
As a rule of thumb, it costs $2 million a megawatt to build a wind farm, Wilde said.
John Hines, NorthWestern’s vice president of supply, said Greenfield came to NorthWestern energy with the project.
“We believe our portfolio is getting fairly full for this type of energy – intermittent wind energy,” he said.
The company already is purchasing about 250 megawatts of wind power, or about 14 percent of its total energy requirements, Hines said
However, the utility is obligated to enter contracts with “qualifying facilities” such as Greenfield as a result of a President Jimmy Carter-era federal law designed to diversify the energy portfolio of utilities and stimulate production of alternative energy, he said.
The settlement agreement before the PSC, he said, is “a good faith effort on our part.”
“We can’t go forward without regulatory approval,” Hines said.
The cost of the wind power is higher than market alternatives, he said. The impact of the purchase from Greenfield on ratepayers hasn’t been calculated, but would be very small, he said.
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