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Minnesota company to build 30-turbine wind farm in central Montana

A proposed central Montana wind farm will provide power to NorthWestern Energy under a contract announced this week.

Minnesota-based Allete Clean Energy announced it will build the 80-megawatt South Peak wind farm near Great Falls and deliver power to NorthWestern Energy for 15 years under a power purchase agreement. It’s enough power to electrify about 26,000 homes.

The project will be located next to Spion Kop, a 40-megawatt wind farm owned by NorthWestern near Geyser. Allete (pronounced A-leet) will use a General Electric workshop at the existing wind farm to build the wind turbines for the new development.

Allete Clean Energy President Al Rudeck said the new project will have to 29 or 30 wind turbines with a hub height of up to nearly 300 feet. At the high point of their turn, the wind turbines’ tips will be 452 to 500 feet off the ground, according to GE data.

“We’ll have our own service building and service support, but we’ll work with NorthWestern and GE to get the best project possible,” Rudeck said.

The South Peak will come online in 2019, with construction likely this year, Rudeck said. Allete purchased the Judith Basin project from Peak Clean Energy. Peak was the developer of Spion Kop, which was sold to NorthWestern in 2012.

For now, NorthWestern has no plans to buy South Peak from Allete, said utility spokesperson Butch Larcombe, however that could change.

NorthWestern now has 450 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power about 144,000 homes, in its portfolio. It has purchase agreements for another 265 megawatts from three developments yet to come online. South Peak, Crazy Mountain Wind near Springdale and Stillwater Wind near Reed Point would each add 80 megawatts of power to NorthWestern’s portfolio. Greycliff Wind, a 25-megawatt project near Greycliff is also part of the equation.

Allete’s 15-year purchase agreement with NorthWestern is one of the first for a wind farm under new contract lengths established by the Montana Public Service Commission. The PSC shortened contracts last fall, arguing that longer contracts by utilities had resulted in consumers paying higher than market prices for electricity.

Some renewable energy developers have called the contract lengths unworkable because the shortened terms make financing difficult.

Allete is an energy developer that also owns regulated utilities, namely Minnesota Power and Superior Water, Light and Power of Wisconsin. Allete is based in Duluth.