BILLINGS — Montana wind energy advocates have been dealt a blow by the Bonneville Power Administration, which has refused to kill a transmission fee that inflates the cost of renewable energy.
Keeping the fee on the books may hurt the prospects of the Clearwater Wind farm near Forsyth. Wind farm developers plan to sell their power into Washington state. The transmission fee will make the power more expensive.
The Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club have petitioned Bonneville Power to drop the transmission charge. The petition had earned support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington and Montana.
“When you have a Republican-controlled House in Montana and a Democratic-controlled House in Washington (state) and they’re agreeing, what’s the concern here?” said Anne Hedges, of MEIC.
At issue is a $2 per megawatt hour transmission fee BPA applies to a 90-mile stretch between Townsend and Garrison. As a result, some power companies pay double to move electricity out of Montana.
The fee is enough to keep renewable energy created in Montana from being competitive in the Pacific Northwest, proponents say. BPA, a nonprofit federal agency that markets power in the Pacific Northwest, disagrees.
BPA has 15,000 miles of transmission line across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
In a draft ruling on the matter, BPA concluded that the various stakeholders in the western energy market needed to collaborate in order to develop favorable terms for a renewable energy industry in Montana.
BPA indicated it was willing to participate in a renewable energy plan, but wasn’t willing to end its transmission fee.
There is interest in the Pacific Northwest for Montana wind energy. Peak wind energy production in Montana occurs in the winter when hydroelectric dams in Washington are at their low production point.
Colstrip advocates had also pressed BPA to drop the transmission fee. Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, had led the push in the Montana House to back the fee cancellation. The transmission fee also adds millions of dollars to Colstrip electricity sold by Talen Energy, which is losing money and looking for any market improvement it can get, Zolnikov said.
Zolnikov is chairman of the House Energy Committee.