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Northwestern Energy’s Long Term Energy Supply Plan: Will it Incude Renewables?

Can technological progress in both the delivery and storage of renewable energy change NorthWestern Energy’s energy supply plan for the next 20 years? The utility hosted an Energy Supply forum, open to the public, at its Butte Office on November 29th, 2017. Friends of Two Rivers Board members Gary and Judy Matson attended. NorthWestern seeks approval from the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) for its electric energy supply plan. It is currently being developed by Northwestern in collaboration with the Electric Advisory Technical Committee (ETAC) of stakeholders and technical experts.

The PSC regulates NorthWestern under Montana Law, requiring it to: “Provide customers adequate and reliable electricity supply services, stably and reasonably priced, at the lowest long-term total cost.” Meetings of ETAC will continue, and there will be at least one more public meeting before the utility’s energy supply plan filing deadline of December, 2018.

NorthWestern is evaluating a mix of existing energy generation resources, hydro, coal, natural gas, thermal, wind, and solar. In its energy supply growth, the utility is counting primarily on natural gas. It expects its hydro and coal generation to remain the same (including Colstrip 3 and 4). There is little growth expected from solar and wind generation.

In citing reasons for expected low growth in solar and wind generation, Northwestern notes the variability of each of these sources. Neither is constant, and that creates situations where there is high demand and little supply from solar or wind. The solution to this variability is electricity storage and there are important advances in, for example, large capacity batteries and “pumped hydro” storage. The November, 2017 Northwestern Energy Supply Forum included presentations on both these storage processes.

A Kalispell, Montana firm, ViZn Energy, produces a safe and cost effective “flow battery.”  “A flow battery is a type of rechargeable battery where the battery stacks circulate two chemical components dissolved in liquid electrolytes contained within the system. The two electrolytes are separated by a membrane within the stack and ion exchange across this membrane creates the flow of electric current while both liquids circulate in their own respective space.” (from the web site)

Absaroka Energy LLC, with an office in Bozeman, Montana is a developer of “pumped storage hydro.”Absaroka Energy LLC Quoting from the firm’s information packet: “There are 40 pumped storage hydro (PSH) plants operational in the United States, accounting for approximately 99% of all energy storage in the grid (approximately 20 gigawatts).” “There is currently a fully FERC licensed, 40 MW pumped storage hydro development in central Montana that will deploy Ternary-type PSH technology. This technology has not been utilized in the United States, but it has been successfully installed and operational in Europe (Kops II) since 2008.”

Provide customers adequate and reliable electricity supply services, stably and reasonably priced, at the lowest long-term total cost? Developments such as high capacity battery storage and pumped storage hydro, coupled with steadily lower prices for solar and wind generators fulfill this mandate.

Stay informed! Stay engaged! Follow NorthWestern’s progress with its 2018 Energy Resource Plan by staying in touch with the Electric Technical Advisory Committee. Meeting agendas and minutes are found here: http://www.northwesternenergy.com/our-company/regulatory-environment/etac 

Check with the Montana Public Service Commission for meetings about NorthWestern’s Resource Plan  Our best tool as Montana Citizens in keeping our State “Future Friendly” is to stay informed and stay engaged.

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