Rural Montana Magazine - November 2013 - page 4

Dear Editor:
Several papers across the
state recently printed a guest
column headlined “Montana
is Denied Access to
Markets.” The author is a
wind advocate for Renewable
Northwest Project, a
Portland, Ore.-based organi-
zation that advertises itself as
“a forceful advocate of
renewable energy develop-
ment.” Unfortunately, being a
forceful advocate in this case
allows for creative use of
selected “factoids” that could
both literally and figuratively
keep Montanans in the dark.
While there is great value
in wind projects like Spion
Kop — a 40-MW wind farm
near Geyser — the electricity
generated from wind projects
is not equivalent to Colstrip 4
generation. You may have
already guessed as much, but
it bears repeating that elec-
tricity from wind cannot be
dispatched, and is as variable
as the wind used to generate
it. Do you know anyone will-
ing to sign up for a service
that is available one-third of
the time with its availability
determined by Montana’s
The column provides fur-
ther misinformation by
attacking Bonneville Power
Administration’s rate deci-
sion on the Montana Intertie,
which is the 500-kilovolt
transmission line complex
running from Townsend to
Garrison. These facilities
were built to support the
expansion of the Colstrip
facilities in the 1980s.
Because the purpose of the
line was to transmit power to
customers in the west, BPA
has always treated the line as
a separate segment. There is
nothing discriminatory about
the rates applied since the
benefits of the line are con-
fined to the parties that use it,
and there is simply no justifi-
cation for applying these
costs to the broader transmis-
sion network that serves
BPA’s customers throughout
the Northwest.
The guest editorial’s author
also claims that BPA is drag-
ging its feet on an additional
600 MW upgrade to the
capacity of the high-voltage
transmission line. He incor-
rectly claims that this would
require no new wires or
transmission footprint. The
potential upgrade will require
a new transmission substa-
tion west of Missoula, and
BPA is currently performing
an Environmental Impact
Statement of the proposed
Montana to Washington
upgrade. Cost estimates for
the upgrade are in the range
of $150 million. The author
also undercuts his own argu-
ments by correctly identify-
ing that there is 184 MW of
unused transmission capacity,
yet claims that BPA (and ulti-
mately its ratepayers) should
carry the risk of investing in
600 MW of additional
During the recently con-
cluded rate case, BPA con-
cluded that Montana wind
generation is already compet-
itive with Columbia Gorge
wind generation. So the
author would have BPA’s
customers funding specula-
tive overbuilds of transmis-
sion when there is no
demand for the 184 MW of
transmission already avail-
able. During the rate case,
the Renewables Northwest
Project tried similar argu-
ments, but could produce no
information that Montana
wind would be more compet-
itive by eliminating the rate
and pushing these costs onto
ratepayers. The actual impact
of the MT Intertie rate is a
mere one-tenth of a penny
per kWh, or 2 percent of the
5.4 cents per kWh cost of
Montana wind from Spion
BPA has proven itself to be
a leader in the integration of
wind energy, and it currently
provides dispatchable
resources through clean,
renewable Columbia River
hydropower to make more
than 4,500 MW of wind
usable to the Northwest 100
percent of the time. More
than 100,000 electric con-
sumers in Montana get their
cost-based power from BPA
through six electric coopera-
tives and a tribal utility. Of
course, the editorial’s author
needs to omit this important
fact as he attacks BPA and
seeks to increase BPA rates
for the benefit of foreign
wind investors.
— Joe Lukas
Cooperatives’ concerns
about the impacts of wind
industry proposals on trans-
mission rates should not be
taken as a sign of opposition
to renewable energy on the
part of Montana’s electric
cooperatives. On the con-
trary, we are major pur-
chasers of renewables. For
example, one of our biggest
power suppliers — Basin
Electric Power Cooperative,
of which many of our co-ops
are part-owners — owns or
buys significant quantities of
wind energy. In fact, about
15 percent of its power gen-
erating capacity is currently
comprised of renewable ener-
gy, most of it wind energy. In
addition, depending on the
co-op, Montana’s electric
cooperatives are from rough-
ly 13 percent to 90-plus-per-
cent dependent on hydropow-
er, one of the most reliable
forms of renewable power.
Wind editorial’s arguments could put Montanans at risk
In mid-August, several
papers throughout Montana
ran a guest column entitled,
“Montana is Denied Access to
Markets,” written by an advo-
cate of wind power who
expressed concerns with
Bonneville Power
Administration’s transmission
policies and argued for replac-
ing coal generation with wind.
Below is a response written by
Joe Lukas, general manager of
Western Montana Electric
Generating & Transmission
Cooperative, Inc.
Photo by Mariah Hall
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