MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock and the Bonneville Power Administration today released the Montana Renewables Development Action Plan, which identifies specific actions intended to promote the further development of renewable energy projects in Montana and improve the ability of West Coast markets to access that energy.
“We brought together stakeholders from diverse interests to seek common understanding on very complex issues – and to find solutions that work,” said Governor Bullock. “With this effort, we’re boosting the opportunities for more energy development in Montana and making Montana wind more attractive for West Coast buyers, all to create good-paying jobs and economic opportunity for Montanans.”
The report supports the conclusion that Montana has an opportunity to play a significant role in energy markets by growing its renewable resource base. The state currently has more than 700 megawatts of installed wind capacity, with the potential to develop significantly more wind resources. Even more encouraging is the report’s finding that there is existing capacity to transmit that power to the Northwest.
“It was a pleasure to work with Governor Bullock and many other partners from across the region during this process,” said Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator. “Through collaboration, hard work and a little bit of active listening, we identified existing short-term opportunities and some longer-term priorities that should enable the additional development of renewable energy in Montana to complement existing hydropower and other renewable generation across the Pacific Northwest. I am excited and committed to working with the other participants in this process to deliver on the plan's recommendations.”
Efforts to compile the report began several months ago when Mainzer 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.
“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,” said Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest and a member of the Task Force Steering Committee. “This is great news for customers, the environment, and Montana’s rural economic vitality. Washington and Oregon utilities should be confident that they can cost-effectively deliver Montana wind to their customers."
The Action Plan identifies 18 actions that, if taken, would remove barriers to the development and export of Montana renewable resources. Highlighted actions include:
- Broad recognition and agreement that the Colstrip transmission network is not only important to local Northwestern Energy needs, but vital to future renewable energy development in Eastern Montana. The Colstrip owners and BPA have committed to reviewing the agreements that govern the delivery of Colstrip power and to look at modernizing them to address today’s energy challenges and opportunities.
- There is a considerable amount of transmission capacity available now to move renewable energy out of Montana, and over time and with a few relatively cost-effective actions, that available capacity is expected to grow significantly as Colstrip units 1 and 2 retire.
- Many believed that technical limitations of the transmission system would significantly limit the opportunity for Montana renewables to move to west coast markets. The report and underlying analyses shows that these concerns are not significant barriers.
BPA has committed to track progress on the action items and file progress reports with committee members and interested parties.
The Action Plan marks another step in Governor Bullock’s Energy Blueprint to determine the state’s energy future through a balanced and responsible plan with all sectors of the energy industry. Through the blueprint, Governor Bullock has committed to working with the Colstrip community to ensure they remain a viable part of the energy future, in addition to developing potential for wind and solar power and harnessing new technology for carbon capture. Since the release of the blueprint in 2016, Montana has quadrupled its solar production.
The Montana Renewables Development Action Plan can be found here: www.bpa.gov/goto/MontanaRenewablesDevelopmentActionPlan.