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More details about Laurel power plant emerge
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More details about Laurel power plant emerge

More details are emerging about NorthWestern Energy’s proposed gas-fired power plant near Laurel.

At least 250 people would be needed for the construction of the 175-megawatt power plant, which the utility previously said would come online by start of 2024. The selected contractor for the project is Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co., Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri.

“There will be significant jobs during the construction of the Laurel Generating Station with opportunities for Montanans for employment, as well as to provide services and supplies. At the peak of construction there is expected to be between 250 - 300 people working on the Laurel Generating Station,” said NorthWestern spokesperson Jo Dee Black in an email. “We anticipate and hope a significant portion of the work will be done by Montanans.”

It will take 10 people to run the plant, Black said. The location won't be disclosed until later this month.

The gas-fired power plant designed by Caterpillar is a reciprocating internal combustion engine, or RICE unit, which can fire up or shut off when needed. Additionally, the utility contracted for 100 megawatts of hydropower from a subsidiary of BC Hydro, a Canadian-owned company.

The Montana Public Service Commission this month will get its first look at Laurel Generating Station, plus a 50-megawatt battery storage facility NorthWestern says will be located in Billings. The contract for the battery storage project is pending. The company involved hasn’t been identified.

The battery storage project will bank power from all energy sources when electricity is ample, then flow back onto the grid when energy demand is high. Storage is often associated with renewable energy, which doesn’t necessarily sync up with consumer demand. NorthWestern’s storage will not be dedicated specifically to renewable energy.

All told, NorthWestern is adding 325 megawatts of new dispatchable capacity. 

The commission will have the chance to compare the projects selected to those that weren’t.

In the past few weeks, businesses who responded to NorthWestern’s request for proposals have asked the PSC keep details about their submitted projects private for proprietary reasons.

Among bidders self-identifying are: NextEra, which is developing a 750-megawatt wind farm in Custer, Rosebud and Garfield counties; Broadview Solar II, a 300-megawatt solar farm planned west of Billings near Broadview; Gordon Butte Energy Park, a 400-megawatt pumped storage hydro facility in Meagher County; and Mitsubishi Power America, which proposed a green hydrogen production and storage, a solar farm and gas-fired peaking power plant and a combined cycle gas generator. Mitsubishi has proposed converting water to hydrogen in Butte, where it would build an electrolyzing plant.

There were 180 proposals submitted from 21 different bidders, according to NorthWestern. The projects were evaluated by Aion energy.

There’s been no mention of Colstrip Power Plant being considered as a future flexible capacity resource in the competitive selection process. At about the same time the request for proposals was issued, NorthWestern had requested pre-approval to acquire additional share of Colstrip Unit 4, in which the utility already has a 30% stake.

NorthWestern is only identifying bidders with proposals that resulted in contracts at this time, it told Lee Montana Newspapers.

In seeking the additional Colstrip share in 2020, NorthWestern Energy Director Long-Term Resources Bleau LaFave testified that the 185 megawatt share of Colstrip Unit 4 offered to NorthWestern by Puget Sound Energy would be available for flexible generation and provide the ability to ramp up and down to balance load and intermittent generation. All 185 megawatts would have been available for peaking capacity during the entire time of the operation.

The proposed 2020 Colstrip purchase was pursued as an “opportunity resource,” that is to say an existing resource that has become available and not one that gets compared competitively to alternatives. That proposal was withdrawn by NorthWestern and Puget.

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