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Bob Glanzer Generating Station

Our new Bob Glanzer Generating Station is helping us move toward our clean energy future.
President and COO Brian Brid

Montanans need reliable energy and diverse generation to deliver it

Date: Jan 3, 2023

TYPE: News

NorthWestern Energy President and CEO Brian Bird  

How do Montanans handle extreme weather? We prepare.

Long before systems like the Arctic blast last week that gripped much of the Treasure State with dangerous wind chills − -74 in Elk Park north of Butte − and some record low temperatures − -44 in Bozeman − we knew waiting until the weather forecast turns ugly is too late to get ready.

NorthWestern Energy prepares all year for the extreme conditions Montana experienced last week. We maintain and invest in Montana’s grid and energy systems to be ready to continue delivering reliable, safe power to keep the lights and heat on for our customers as they weather storms.

Last week a new record electric-peak load occurred on the grid that serves our Montana customers as well as many of Montana’s other energy service providers. NorthWestern Energy’s Montana natural gas customers also used a new all-time peak quantity of natural gas last week to stay warm.

NorthWestern Energy’s Montana natural gas-fired generation facilities and the Montana Colstrip power plant –available in all weather conditions − along with our hydro generation in the state, supplied about half of the power during our customers’ highest energy need. Weather conditions, including extreme cold temperatures, meant NorthWestern Energy’s considerable Montana wind generation resources could not provide much, if any.

During the coldest grip of the Arctic blast, more than 47% of the electricity that kept the power on in our Montana customers’ homes, businesses and critical services, such as hospitals, was imported on the grid from out-of-state.

It’s a sobering example of why Montanans must have a balanced set of power generation resources available for reliable, safe energy.

NorthWestern Energy is preparing today so that Montanans will not depend so heavily on out-of-state resources with the risk of volatile price spikes and the increasing possibility that those power resources won’t be available when energy demand is high, such as last week’s Arctic blast.

The Yellowstone County Generating Station, a natural gas-fired plant that will generate up to 175 megawatts of power, will be ready to serve Montanans in 2024. If it was operating today, NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers could have avoided at least $4.7 million in market purchases from Dec. 20 to 26.

The power generated from two natural-gas fired plants near Anaconda, NorthWestern Energy’s Dave Gates Generating Station and Basin Creek, which we contract with, saved our Montana customers at least $5.4 million during the same seven days, compared with the cost of purchasing the same amount of energy from the market.

Reliable energy service can only be delivered with a balanced set of generation resources, one that includes variable renewables such as wind, our hydro facilities and fossil-fuel power plants that provide energy in all weather conditions...when Montana sets new record lows and the air is still.

Today about 59% of the power serving NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers throughout the year is from carbon-free generation. Nationally, 40% of power is from carbon-free resources.

But additional, always available, on-demand power generation resources, such as the Yellowstone County Generating Station, are needed in Montana to serve Montanans when energy demand is high.

Last week was extreme, our energy system performance was outstanding, but there were some service outages. Because of preparations completed well in advanced of the Arctic blast, our NorthWestern Energy team members were ready with the equipment and materials needed to respond in some unimaginable conditions to restore energy service as quickly as possible, safely.

Thanks to all of our partners – the National Weather Service, transportation road crews, our state and local emergency and safety personnel and our customers – who work year around to prepare Montanans and keep us safe in all weather conditions, including -44 degree temperatures. 

The chart above shows the source of NorthWestern Energy’s energy generation from Dec. 20 – 27, 2022, with the red line showing the forecast of how much power is needed to meet demand. When generation doesn’t meet demand, additional electricity from the market is purchased. When generation exceeds demand, extra energy can be sold on the market, with profits benefitting our Montana customers.

See NorthWestern Energy’s Montana near real-time hourly electrical generation by source here: