Background: Many states in the West face the same issues NorthWestern Energy’s procurement plan describes, but there is little or no discussion of how other states are moving quickly from fossil fuel generated power to renewable energy. One power company in Colorado, Excel Energy, recently announced that it would completely move from coal-generated power to become a 100 percent renewable energy company by 2050. Another company, Portland General Electric, just announced plans to retire a coal plant to build the country’s first large-scale energy facility that combines wind turbines, solar panels and battery storage to power over 100,000 homes. Why does NorthWestern Energy ignore what’s happening in our region?


NorthWestern Energy
11 East Park Street
Butte, MT 59701

The Montana Public Service Commission
1701 Prospect Street
Helena, MT59701

The Montana Consumer Counsel
P.O. Box 201703
Helena, MT 59620-1703

Dear Montana Energy Officials,

Please accept my comment on NorthWestern Energy’s procurement plan.

The 2019 procurement plan says renewable energy is “too intermittent,” but it doesn’t analyze how neighboring states are using wind and solar and storage technologies.

For instance, Portland General Electric is planning the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in eastern Oregon, which will combine 300 megawatts of wind energy and 50 megawatts of solar power with battery storage.

Why wouldn’t a development like this in eastern Montana meet NorthWestern Energy’s needs?

This development is especially relevant to Montana because the Portland utility is investing in the new renewable energy generation facilities and storage technology to offset the pending closure of its coal power plant in Boardman. Oregon also recognizes growing energy use at the same time it’s closing the coal facility.

Certainly eastern Montana could provide similar resources as this project: the wind farm will include 120 turbines, turning on hubs 300 feet above the ground, covering less than one acre apiece while he solar and battery facility will occupy an additional 350 acres.

This development looks to come on-line in 2021.

In Colorado, Excel Energy has announced that it will replace all its coal-fired electricity portfolio with renewable energy. In fact, the company has committed to relying on 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Has NorthWestern noticed?

Other innovative utilities include:

  • Liberty Utility, which will install 500 Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries in an effort to shave peak demand. Behind-the-meter storage makes utility systems more flexible and provide grid services. Liberty customers can charge their batteries with rooftop solar and use them as backup power during storms, or lower their energy costs by not using the grid during peak times, when prices spike.
  • Green Mountain Power in Vermont that saved its customers $500,000 during a July heatwave by providing its customers 2,000 Tesla Powerwall batteries.
  • The municipal utility in Los Angeles is phasing out natural gas generators to move to renewable energy. Battery energy-storage systems will replace three gas-fired units that provide 38 percent of the city’s power.
  • In March 2019 Washington’s legislature voted to make all electrical utilities provide 100 percent carbon-free electicity by 2045. It will eliminate all coal-fired electricity in the state.

The chief executive of one US solar company said in January, “I can beat a gas peaker anywhere in the country today with a solar-plus-storage power plant. Who in their right mind today would build a new gas peaker? We are a factor of two cheaper.”

The point here is why hasn’t NorthWestern Energy sought out information about other renewable energy generation and storage facilities in Oregon, Washington, and California and compared the costs? Surely these states have plans to meet their peak demand? No one is going dark.

Why is NorthWestern Energy falling further and further behind its industry’s leaders?