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Power plant owner eyes Montana wind energy

Power plant owner eyes Montana wind energy

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Stillwater Wind Farm

Wind turbines at Stillwater Wind facility turn in the evening light in December near Reed Point. Multiple wind farms occupy the area north of Interstate 90 in Stillwater and Carbon Counties.

BILLINGS — Colstrip Power Plant owner Avista Corp. is eyeing 300 megawatts of Montana wind power over the next seven years as it determines where its future energy will come from.

The Spokane-utility included Montana wind energy in its preferred strategy for resources, with 100 megawatts of the capacity coming online in 2023, plus an additional 100 in 2024, and another 100 megawatts of capacity in 2028.

Details were disclosed April 2 in the utility’s 2021 Integrated Resource Plan, which gives regulators in Idaho and Washington a look at Avista scenarios for providing electricity to customers through 2025 and beyond.

Avista has a 222-megawatt share of the Colstrip Power Plant, evenly divided between Units 3 and 4. It faces a 2025 deadline to stop delivering coal power to its Washington customers under the terms of the state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act. The climate law requires utilities to stop delivering coal power to Washington Customers by the end of 2025. No state consumes more Colstrip power than Washington.

Montana wind could help the utility reach that CETA goals. Avista concludes that “200 MW of Montana wind is the most economic new resource to meet the CETA requirements beginning in 2024.”

One of CETA’s requirements is that Washington’s Colstrip owners find non-coal power for the Colstrip Transmission Line between Colstrip and Townsend, or stop billing customers for the line’s costs once the coal ban kicks in.

Monday, Avista’s director of power supply, Scott Kinney, cautioned in an email that Montana wind would still have to prevail in competitive bidding with other resources.

“We are working with a short list of potential projects and hope to finalize contract(s) soon. We will issue future RFPs as necessary to fulfill resource needs. If a Montana wind project is selected through any competitive RFP, then we will use the transmission available at the time to transfer the power to our load centers,” said Scott Kinney, Avista’s Director of Power Supply.

Avista noted that Montana wind had a more favorable capacity factor than other wind in its portfolio and has also performed well at times when wind in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t at its best.

There is a large wind farm in development near Colstrip. NextEra Energy Resources with 750-megawatts capacity, will be three times larger than any wind farm currently spinning in Montana. The company says the wind farm will start generating power in 2022, but will take years to reach full potential. NextEra expects Clearwater construction to create 350 construction jobs.

There are currently 614 megawatts of transmission capacity available on the Colstrip line that was previously used to accommodate Colstrip Units 1 and 2. Those units were closed at the start of 2020, six months after owners Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy announced the coal-fired generators were no longer economical.

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