- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The state Public Service Commission has rejected NorthWestern Energy’s agreement to buy power from a new wind project.

The commission voted 3-2 this week to reject an agreement between NorthWestern and Greenfield Wind, which is proposing a wind project near Fairfield.

Lee Newspapers of Montana reports the agreement includes a 25-year contract to sell wind power to NorthWestern for about $54 per megawatt-hour.

Earlier this year, the PSC approved NorthWestern’s proposal to pay $870 million to buy 11 hydroelectric dams and use that power to supply its Montana customers. The cost of that power to ratepayers is $57 to $58 per megawatt-hour, commissioners said at Tuesday’s meeting.

John Pimentel, the president of Foundation Wind Power and a partner in the Greenfield project, said it plans to ask the PSC to reconsider its action.

Even though the wind power would be cheaper, there was concern from some commissioners that NorthWestern would be paying for wind power it didn’t need.

Commission Chairman Bill Gallagher, R-Helena, said there would be many times during the 25-year contract that NorthWestern wouldn’t need the power it had to buy from Greenfield.

NorthWestern then would have to sell that excess power into the market, sometimes at a loss, and “the difference in that price is going to be left to the consumer,” Gallagher said.

Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, favored the deal, saying the price seems “to be in the zone of reasonableness.”

Kavulla said if the settlement isn’t approved, the case will continue before the PSC and may be much more difficult to resolve.

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