Electricity Markets

Plan tackles Montana grid, renewable export issues

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the Bonneville Power Administration on July 2 released a plan that, among other things, notes that there is already a considerable amount of transmission capacity available to move renewable energy out of Montana.

The Montana Renewables Development Action Plan, which is aimed at addressing barriers to the development of renewable energy projects in the state, found that the delivered cost of Montana renewables appears to be competitive with other renewable resources in the Northwest. But uncertainties about transmission and integration services can be impediments to securing contracts for Montana wind resources, the report found.

Efforts to compile the report began several months ago when Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator, and Bullock invited a diverse group of stakeholders to take a collaborative look at renewable energy challenges and opportunities in Montana.

The group, which included public and private utilities, regulators, advocates, and renewable resource developers, focused their efforts on producing a sustainable long-term strategy to develop new renewable energy resources in Montana.

The work addressed issues including commercial needs, policies, planning and operational issues. “This inclusive approach to collaboration and problem-solving allowed the group to identify solutions that satisfy the region’s needs,” a news release from the governor’s office and BPA said. The plan marks another step in Bullock’s “Energy Blueprint to determine the state’s energy future through a balanced and responsible plan with all sectors of the energy industry,” the news release said.

State has potential to develop more renewable energy resources

Montana currently has more than 700 MW of installed wind capacity, but data shows the state has the potential to develop significantly more renewable resources, the plan said.

“We’ve always known that Montana had the most energetic wind resource in the region. This collaborative process reveals that existing transmission — with modest investments — can deliver considerable amounts of renewable energy to West Coast utilities,” Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest and participant in the report, said in a statement.

The report found that nearly 360 MW of transmission capacity is available today to move power from Montana to the Pacific Northwest and more transmission capacity will be available after the planned retirement of units 1 and 2, totaling 614 MW, at the Colstrip coal plant, expected by 2022.

With relatively minor investments, compared with the cost of building a new line, the existing transfer capability of the Colstrip Transmission System could support a one-for-one replacement of Colstrip generation with new resources, including variable energy resources, the plan said.

In addition, the plan said there is enough dynamic transfer capacity at the Garrison interchange to accommodate the transfer of over 1,000 MW of wind power from Montana.

Dynamic transfer capacity is necessary for integrating variable resources since it is consumed when resource output fluctuates within the operating hour. Dynamic transfer capacity is necessary for compliance with Washington State’s current renewable portfolio standard and enables options for integrating Montana wind with Pacific Northwest balancing authorities.

There are no dynamic transfer capacity limitations between BPA and other Northwest parties. Dynamic transfer capacity on the Montana intertie is the limiting factor. If necessary, the report found, the existing dynamic transfer capacity could be approximately doubled at relatively low cost with automating voltage control actions on transmission reactive devices.

The report also identified incremental available transmission capacity that could be added to the system, including a $140 million Montana-to-Washington transmission project, and a $252 million Colstrip transmission upgrade.

At the top of the list of recommendations in the report is that BPA and the Colstrip Transmission System owners should review their intertie and Colstrip transmission agreements and make modifications to facilitate future utilization based on non-discriminatory, open access principles.

The report also recommends that BPA consider requests for providing products and services for integrating resources located outside its balancing authority; and that BPA, along with Avista, NorthWestern Energy, and transmission customers should work together to evaluate changes to transmission tariffs and business practices that may be impediments to exporting Montana renewables.

The report also recommends studies be conducted to identify the regulation and load following needs for both existing and potential wind and solar power resources. And the report recommends that BPA should evaluate offering conditional firm service for Montana exports, especially as a bridge product to long-term firm service, and take steps to increase available transfer capacity on its network in order to allow imports from Montana.

BPA should also consider modifying its tariff to allow for developer-funded National Environmental Policy Act costs to be refunded if long-term firm service is ultimately purchased at rolled-in embedded cost rates. The report said that would make BPA consistent with how environmental and permitting costs are treated by other transmission providers under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy.

To ensure work moves forward on the plan, BPA said it would track progress on the plan’s recommendations and the state of Montana, with BPA, will conduct webinars for interested parties every six months for as long as is useful.

“It was useful to get a diverse array of parties in the room to work through the issues and identify some new solutions,” said Scott Corwin, executive director for the Oregon-based Public Power Council. Corwin participated in work on the plan by serving on a steering committee.

Additional details on the plan are available here.