Montana wind has a much higher capacity factor because it blows faster and more frequently than wind in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s very complementary to gorge wind since it tends to blow at a different time.Brian Altman, transmission account executive
On Nov. 16, the Clearwater Wind Project began spinning its blades as the largest wind project in Montana to date. Built to export energy to Northwest investor-owned utilities, it helps meet state renewable mandates and furthers Montana’s transition from coal to renewables.
“Montana wind has a much higher capacity factor because it blows faster and more frequently than wind in the Columbia River Gorge,” said Brian Altman, transmission account executive. “It’s very complementary to gorge wind since it tends to blow at a different time.”
The Clearwater project, developed by NextEra Energy Resources in conjunction with Orion Renewable Energy Group, is in the southeastern counties of Rosebud, Custer and Garfield and can produce up to 750 megawatts. That’s enough to power 597,000 homes – Montana only has about 1.1 million people living in the entire state.
“This is the tipping point,” said Altman. “A transition has been coming from coal to renewables in Montana for a number of years, and BPA is facilitating the change. This effort accelerated in 2017-2018 when BPA’s administrator and the governor of Montana convened the Montana Renewable Development Action Plan.”
That action plan process educated the public, developers and environmental advocates; built relationships; and facilitated bringing the wind plant online. The Clearwater project is, in part, reusing freed-up capacity on BPA’s transmission lines from the decommissioned coal-fired Colstrip units one and two that stopped operating in 2020.
BPA’s transmission network provides the critical connection to bring the Clearwater generation to Oregon and Washington. BPA partnered with NorthWestern Energy to link eastern and western Montana. That same linkage will also enable future generation projects to interconnect and send wind power across the Northwest.
If Colstrip units three and four also cease operations at some point, it will free up additional capacity and enable further renewable development in Montana.
From Dec. 22 until after the Christmas holiday weekend, BPA experienced two dozen outages due to frigid temperatures and blustery winds.
The administrator adopted staff’s proposal for allocating the $500 million Power RDC amount.
Dibble permanently takes over the role on Jan. 15 after serving in an acting capacity since January 2022.