Legislators seek higher taxes on wind

Turbines are shown in this file photo from Duke Energy’s Top of the World wind energy project outside Glenrock, Wyo.

Montana wind energy advocates are asking the Bonneville Power Administration to kill a transmission fee that drives up the cost of renewable energy.

Attorneys for Earthjustice say the fee applied to 90 miles of BPA line in Montana is making it difficult for Montana wind farms to sell energy to utilities in Washington.

The fee could hamper the development of the Clearwater Wind farm near Forsyth. The project is large enough to power 300,000 homes. Ideally, that power would be transmitted to Washington.

“It’s enough to keep Montana wind energy from being competitive,” said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “We’re not going to get any wind off the ground if we don’t resolve these problems.”

MEIC and the Sierra Club are partners in the challenge to transmission charges levied by BPA, a nonprofit federal agency that markets power in the Pacific Northwest. BPA agreed Monday to allow the groups to intervene BPA's rate setting proceedings.

The charge, which has existed for decades, is unique, Hedges said. BPA has 15,000 miles of transmission line across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, but only applies the questioned fee along the 90 miles of wire originating near Townsend. As a result, some power companies pay double to move electricity out of Montana.

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The fee is roughly $2 a megawatt hour, enough to keep wind energy from being competitive, said Jeff Fox, of Renewable Northwest, which promotes cheap renewable energy in the region.

“Our position is that it hampers the development of wind resources and it’s unjustifiable,” Fox said.

Montana wind energy is well timed to feed into the power demands of Washington and Oregon, Fox said. Wind energy is at its peak in Montana in the winter months, when Pacific Northwest wind production is low and dams along the Columbia River are aren’t very active.

In January, BPA will accept public testimony about the rates it charges for energy services in the Pacific Northwest. This is the process by which BPA determines how much money it needs to charge customers in order to cover its costs and repay the U.S. Treasury.

MEIC and the Sierra Club will make their case during the public testimony period. A decision about BPA rates will be made in May. 

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