RAPELJE – The homes are few and far between on the high plains that sweep between Rapelje and Reed Point. Though remote, the area is poised to mark a first in Montana: a place where the power of wind will be stored.
Last month, Stillwater County approved two phases of a wind farm that will incorporate large batteries for storing energy. The new-to-Montana concept addresses what skeptics fault about wind power: that it’s inconsistent and unreliable.
The batteries offer a way to offset the vagaries of wind by storing excess energy when demand is low and tapping that energy when demand peaks.
The permit was the last box to be checked for Beaver Creek Wind Farms II and III. Each project is rated at 80 megawatts of power slated for NorthWestern Energy’s system via transmission lines roughly four miles from the proposed farms. Caithness Beaver Creek, the New York company developing the wind farms, estimates the two phases could power nearly 115,000 homes.
While wind farms are not new to Montana, the incorporation of batteries is.
Derrel Grant, senior vice president of development for Caithness Beaver Creek, refers to the model as a hybrid wind and storage facility.
“It’s a unique utilization of the technologies,” he said. “It might be new to Montana, but it’s not new to the industry.”
In some places, developers have lassoed the power of the wind using water as a “battery.” When wind energy exceeds demand, water is pumped into an elevated reservoir. When demand outstrips production, the water is released, flowing down and creating hydro energy.
The Beaver Creek projects, however, will rely on lithium-ion batteries that will “firm up” the wind power by smoothing out the highs and lows of the wind so the output will be more consistent. Grant describes the batteries as somewhat like those in an electric car, only on a much larger scale. They will be stored in containers that occupy about three acres of the wind farm. According to Caithness, the batteries will provide approximately three-and-a-half to four hours of storage. That means if the batteries are full and the wind stops blowing, they will produce 20 megawatts of power for that duration.
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