Montana's Transmission System Ready For New Wind Energy, Report Says

By CORIN CATES-CARNEY 
July 2, 2018
Montana Public Radio

Montana could play a significant role in meeting the demand for renewable energy in the Pacific Northwest, according to a new study from the Bonneville Power Administration and the state of Montana.

The report follows a meeting last December when energy developers and utility companies from across the Northwest met in Helena to talk about Montana’s energy future and the growing demand for less carbon emitting power.

Jeff Fox with Renewables Northwest says it answers a question about whether the state had an electricity transmission system capable of carrying new wind energy westward if it were developed.

“This effort has taken steps to demonstrate that a significant amount of Montana wind energy can be cost-effectively delivered today, and that there are additional actions that can take place to ensure more energy in the future,” Fox says.

The report says the cost of delivering renewable energy from Montana to the west coast could compete with other renewable resources in the Northwest, but several uncertainties remain about how that power would be transmitted that could limit that potential. 

It also says Montana's capacity to send renewable energy to the west coast will grow after the closure of two units at the Colstrip coal-fired power plant.

Those units are scheduled to go offline no later than 2022.

Brian Fadie, with the Montana Environmental Information Center, says the report’s findings are a big deal for the future of renewables here.

“One of the biggest findings was a statement of fact that the electricity generated by the Colstrip power plant can be entirely replaced, megawatt for megawatt, with renewable electricity with minimal cost or technical modifications.” 

The study says the transmission system used by Colstrip can, "support one-for-one replacement of Colstrip generation with new resources."

Governor Steve Bullock also issued a statement praising the study.

“With this effort we’re boosting the opportunities for more energy development in Montana and making Montana wind more attractive for west coast buyers," he said.

The report says that there is a push by the state government, developers, and public interest groups in exporting renewable energy from Montana, but for that business to work there needs to be a corresponding pull from energy purchasers.