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NorthWestern focuses on renewable energy at Butte meeting

Posted at 8:54 AM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 10:54:07-04

BUTTE – Renewable resources were the focus of NorthWestern Energy’s electricity supply resource planning meeting Wednesday in Butte.

The company also wanted to show how all energy resources are needed to power Montana.

“It allows us to talk about our customers’ future needs and how we are going to meet those needs,” said John Bushnell, manager of energy supply planning and regulatory for NorthWestern Energy.

According to NorthWestern, wind and hydropower are their largest sources of renewable energy. However, there are gaps in those resources.

“In our portfolio of renewable resources, which is primarily wind, which is variable in their generations, we need to have resources available to make up when they change their production,” said Bushnell.

Those other sources of energy are from Colstrip and Basin Creek generation stations. There has been some criticism toward the company for their use of thermal energy like Colstrip, but after Wednesday’s presentation the Electric Technical Advisory Committee felt confident.

“When you turn the light switch on something has to happen and I think the future has to do a lot with renewable energy, but it has to be farther into the existing grid, and that’s going to take some time,” said Bushnell.

Another large concern is with Colstrip’s future. NorthWestern Energy is contracted with the plant through 2040, however, ETAC wants to make sure a plan is in place when the coal plants will be replaced with some type of renewable energy source.

“Colstrip is probably, for market reasons, seen the end of its useful life,” said Chris Pope, ETAC member. “That’s maybe another 10 or 15 years, but it’s time to start planning to fill in behind, and I feel there is a lot of opportunities.”

NorthWestern Energy plans to hold another public meeting in the near future.