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Developer tries again in Montana -- Navitas plans 50 MW

A wind power developer whose project was passed over in a controversial decision by Northwestern Energy in Montana earlier this year has filed with state regulators to name the project a qualifying facility (QF). If approved, Navitas Energy will build 50 MW on land now used as a gold mine and the QF designation will force Northwestern to buy the power.

Northern Alternative Energy (NAE), a Navitas affiliate, filed the application with Montana's Public Service Commission and is expecting a decision this month. The project, at Golden Sunlight Mine in Whitehall, is slated to use 28, 1.8 MW turbines from Spanish Gamesa. The commission also has the authority to set the price of energy produced at a QF project, which NAE president John Jaunich says is $28/MWh, the same price Navitas bid on 150 MW of wind generation in Northwestern's ill-fated default supply portfolio bid (Windpower Monthly, July 2002).

In June, the Public Service Commission (PSC) refused to approve three generating projects chosen by Northwestern Energy from that solicitation, including a wind project submitted by Montana Wind Harness, because of bidding and documentation problems. The Montana project had bid about $31.65/MWh for 150 MW, higher than the Navitas bid.

After the decision, Northwestern went back to the drawing board and will probably release a revised solicitation for wind projects early in 2003, says Northwestern's Claudia Rapkoch, who adds the problem with the awards in the original solicitation was one of process. The utility is considering signing on some type of dispatchable power supply, such as a gas generator, before it releases the solicitation. "We will need this to bring on intermittent resources, such as wind power," she says.

A solicitation slated for release next year, however, may not give Jaunich the time he needs to complete the project before December 31, 2003, when wind's federal production tax credit is due to expire. He says a quick approval by the PSC under the QF process is needed to get in under the tax credit deadline.

The Golden Sunlight project, which may expand to 75 MW, could also include a Gamesa manufacturing facility on the site of the gold mine some time in the future, he says. Spanish Gamesa and Navitas formed a partnership in June that both companies hope will give them a larger US market presence. Montana Wind Harness had made a similar promise to bring to the state a manufacturing plant for Nordex turbines, now made in Denmark and Germany.

One project does not depend on the other, Jaunich says. "The key will be how well we are received in Montana. So far that has not been very well from a utility standpoint." He adds that Jefferson County has been very receptive, especially since the gold mine is phasing out and the county sees the wind project as a way to replace jobs and tax revenues.

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