Construction of what’s expected to be Montana’s largest wind farm will begin in 2021 just beyond the shadow the coal-fired Colstrip Power Plant.
NextEra Energy Resources will plug into the grid at Colstrip substation, to target markets in the Pacific Northwest. Its Clearwater Wind project, with a 750-megawatts capacity, will be three times larger than any wind farm currently spinning in Montana.
“We expect to start construction on Clearwater in 2021 with the wind farm becoming operational in 2022,” said NextEra’s Lisa Paul in an email.
There were community concerns in the power plant town that Clearwater firing up would signal Colstrip Unit 3 powering down for good, the issue being whether there was enough transmission to accommodate Colstrip’s surviving two units and Clearwater. In the end, county officials and state legislators spoke about the importance of the wind farm to the local tax base.
There are currently 614 megawatts of transmission capacity available on the Colstrip line that was previously used to accommodate Colstrip Units 1 and 2. Those units were closed at the start of 2020, six months after owners Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy announced the coal-fired generators were no longer economical.
NextEra expects Clearwater construction to create 350 construction jobs. Afterward, a full-time crew of 20 people will run the wind farm. Taxes on the wind farm over 30 years are estimated to be $217 million. Payments to landowners over that time are estimated to be $226 million.