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Great Falls Tribune
July 10, 2013

Wind at Spion Kop wind farm 'phenomenal'

GEYSER — Wind at NorthWestern Energy’s new 40-megawatt wind farm, called Spion Kop, is “phenomenal,” said John Hines, the regulated utility’s vice president of supply.

“The wind here to date has been better than we had even hoped for,” Hines said at the site Tuesday, as a light breeze blew during an official dedication. “So we’re getting more energy produced here on a unit basis than any of our other contracts that we signed for wind in recent memory.”

Officials with NorthWestern, turbine manufacturer General Electric, developer CompassEnergies and Judith Basin County gathered near a substation to celebrate the completion of the wind farm, which has been operating since December. It’s located 50 miles east of Great Falls.

NorthWestern Energy also purchases renewable power from 28 small wind producers and hydro facilities and the larger Judith Gap wind farm in Montana.

But the $86 million Spion Kop project, developed by Denver-based CompassEnergies, is the first wind farm owned by the regulated utility. The utility now owns 30 percent of the resources that serve Montana customers, CEO Bob Rowe said.

Power the utility delivers is generated from wind, coal, hydroelectric and natural gas.

“It’s premature to say how great it’s going to be, but right now it’s exceeding our expectations,” Hines said of the wind at Spion Kop.

The wind farm’s “capacity factor,” a measurement of its output, is 48 percent, which Hines called phenomenal.

On average, the utility needs 750 megawatts of power daily to meet needs in Montana and 1,250 at peak times during the year. The company has 673,200 customers in the state.

Spion Kop has the capability to produce 40 megawatts, or enough to supply 400 to 600 homes depending on the size and electricity usage of the houses, said Ilan Caplan, vice president of CompassEnergies.

The Highwood Mountains create a very good wind flow through the area, Caplan said. Wind comes from west 95 percent of the time, making it predictable. Wind turbines are located on ridges.


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