June 27, 2019 Read More →

Largest Montana solar project gets court backing in fight with local utility

Billings Gazette:

A 480-acre solar farm planned for Billings has won a significant legal battle over energy contract lengths. MTSUN solar farm will receive a 25-year contract to deliver power to NorthWestern Energy, District Judge James Manley ruled. The project, planned for the Alkali Creek area west of the Billings Heights, has been on hold for two years as solar developers large and small sued Montana’s Public Service Commission and NorthWestern.

The small developers won their case earlier this year, but the order on MTSUN took a few more months. Manley set the per megawatt price at $38.33 including fees.

The news had been trending favorably for Montana solar energy development and particularly for MTSUN in recent months. In May, Klein reached an agreement with NorthWestern for a second Billings solar development, the 150-acre Meadow Lark Solar Project, which is within walking distance of the 480-acre MTSUN development.

Klein is also developing two renewable energy projects near Broadview that combine wind and solar energy generation with battery storage. That project was on track to come online by 2022, which was when Puget Sound Energy expected to begin replacing electricity from Colstrip Power Plant as its oldest units were shut down. The closure of the units frees up needed capacity on the transmission lines connecting Montana to the Pacific Northwest.

But earlier this month, Puget and Talen Energy announced plans to shutter Colstrip Units 1 and 2 by year’s end. Talen said the units were no longer economical and needed cheaper coal. As a result, Puget is now looking for renewable projects that can be launched earlier than 2022. Klein is working to oblige the Washington utility.

“The court ruling will certainly help, but the announcement of the closure of Colstrip 1 and 2, because of coal supply issues, two and a half years early, I think is by far a much bigger issue than anything else,” Klein said.

More: Judge rules in favor of 480-acre solar project in Billings

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