HELENA – NorthWestern Energy’s ad campaign promoting wind energy and the transmission line the company wants to build to ship that power out of state is not sitting well with people who have been trying to sell wind energy to NorthWestern.
“It’s ironic how they are promoting the state as a wind farm — but how much wind have they purchased from wind farm producers in Montana?” asked Bret Kenfield, who has been trying to arrange a contract to sell power to NorthWestern from a 20-megawatt project he’d like to build in north-central Montana.
In the past five years, NorthWestern has arranged virtually no new contracts to buy wind power. The company’s only major contract is with the 135-megawatt Judith Gap wind farm, which began operating in 2005. NorthWestern has turned down offers from project owner Invenergy to expand the Judith Gap project.
NorthWestern said it has offered contracts to more than two dozen small wind projects in Montana in recent years, but project developers have rejected the offers, saying the terms are unreasonable.
Larger wind power developers in Montana are asking for more transmission space to export power to larger markets in the Southwest, and the Mountain States Transmission Intertie line is meant to fill that regional need, said NorthWestern Energy spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch.
The proposed MSTI line and NorthWestern’s electricity supply for its Montana customers are separate issues, Rapkoch said. Any NorthWestern plans for buying power to serve its Montana customers will be discussed in the company’s energy supply plan, which will be released in the next week or so, she said.
NorthWestern’s ad campaign is running as the state prepares to release its draft environmental impact statement on the 345-mile, 500-kilovolt MSTI power line, which would run from the Townsend area into Idaho.
“We’re just trying to remind everyone of what the big picture is,” she said. “When you hit certain milestones on any projects, you need to communicate with the public.”
The ads say wind energy is “vital to our future” and that we need to “produce more energy right here at home.”
“Montana’s wind energy potential is tremendous,” reads one ad. “Wind developers in our state are ready to generate and market Montana’s wind power to a waiting nation. The problem is, they have no way to deliver it. That is where we come in.”
A Dillon-based group, Keep It Rural, ran full-page ads in The Montana Standard last week questioning whether the line is really needed and how it would affect wildlife, ranching and recreation.