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When the car crusher’s on switch was flipped for the first time Oct. 11, Pacific Steel & Recycling’s new Lockwood plant vaulted into the first place of energy guzzling consumers at Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative.

The recycling plant can use one-tenth of the power distributed by the rural cooperative based in Huntley.

“They are our first true industrial customer,” said general manager Brandon Wittman. “At Pacific, the connected load is 9.5 megawatts, so it’s truly 10 times larger than our last largest customer, the MDU gas plant at the landfill.”

The shredder motor alone, not counting all the other equipment at the nearly $30 million Lockwood facility, can use up to 6.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. A typical Montana home on Yellowstone Valley's system uses about 12,000 kilowatt hours annually.

“They’re basically using brute force to tear things apart, to shred things to pieces and electricity is powering that motor,” Wittman said, who nicknamed the recycling shredder the “green brute.”

The co-op’s other top Lockwood customers are H-E Parts International (formerly Crown Parts & Machine) and Peterbilt Trucking.

Aspen Air, another large Lockwood power user, is a customer of NorthWestern Energy.

To serve Pacific Steel, the cooperative built 2 1/2 miles of high-voltage power lines from Lockwood across Interstate 90 and a new substation for the Coulson Road area that only had residential service.

With rail lines and two interstate highways intersecting in Lockwood, this area could take off, Wittman said.

“That’s the perfect place for that development to occur and I think our high-voltage power line was the last piece of infrastructure needed out there,” he said.

Decades ago, Lockwood used to be called “poverty flats” because it was an affordable place to live, compared to Billings.

But with each infrastructure improvement, from better rail lines, interstate highways, schools and upgrades to water, sewer and power systems, more industry comes.

Don Reed, a longtime Lockwood resident and school board member, said the unincorporated community needs to start planning better for growth.

“The taxes are great, but we want to be informed before these things happen,” Reed said. “Look, we have all this development, but let’s plan it out and get it organized.”

One of Reed’s examples of Lockwood not planning far enough ahead is the Johnson Lane interchange.

The on-off ramp to Interstate 90 was built chiefly so residents didn’t have to drive through Lockwood to get on the highway, he said. But the improvement largely for cars and pickups quickly became obsolete after more industry, including trucking companies, migrated to the Johnson Lane area and two truck stops were built.

“The interchange itself wasn’t designed for the heavy truck traffic it gets,” Reed said. “Things have happened and the consequences of it weren’t anticipated and they led to what we have now.”

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Business editor for the Billings Gazette.