HELENA — As the state Public Service Commission decides whether to approve NorthWestern Energy’s proposal to buy a 40-megawatt wind farm, two wind power firms that made other offers want to keep their prices sealed from public view.
The two firms — Sagebrush Wind and Invenergy, which owns one of the largest existing wind farms in Montana — are asking the PSC to seal that information while it decides whether NorthWestern made the best choice for consumers.
The Gazette State Bureau and the Associated Press have formally objected, saying price information on the two projects should be made public — just as it has for the project that NorthWestern chose to purchase. On Thursday, the PSC delayed action on the wind developers’ secrecy request to give them time to respond to the news media’s objection.
The issue stems from the PSC review of NorthWestern’s May 31 request to approve its proposed purchase of the Spion Kop wind project, which would be built by Compass Wind of Denver. The project site is near Raynesford in Judith Basin County, east of Great Falls.
NorthWestern chose Spion Kop after a year-and-a-half-long process that examined numerous offers from renewable-power developers, most of which were wind projects. Sagebrush, of Jackson, Wyo., and Invenergy, of Chicago, were finalists in the process, but their projects weren’t chosen. Invenergy already operates and owns the largest wind farm serving NorthWestern customers, the 135-megawatt Judith Gap project north of Harlowton.
Late last month, Sagebrush and Invenergy asked the PSC to issue separate “protective orders” to withhold from the public what they called trade-secret information on their proposed projects. The information, which includes price and cost of the project, wind data, financial models, legal analyses and costs of capital, will be submitted to the PSC to help it determine whether NorthWestern chose the best project for consumers and the public interest.
Compass Wind, the developer of Spion Kop, also asked to protect similar information, but did not seek to withhold price and cost information on its project. Pricing information on Spion Kop was included in NorthWestern’s May 31 request to the PSC for approval of the project.
On Wednesday, The Gazette State Bureau and the Associated Press said that if price and cost information for Spion Kop is made public, the same information for the other two projects is not a trade secret and should be divulged to the public. The news media organizations asked the PSC to reject the request by Sagebrush and Invenergy to hold secret the price, cost and related information on their respective wind-power projects.
The PSC will be reviewing for months the NorthWestern request for approval of its proposed purchase of the Spion Kop project.