Montana Mills, Utilities Explore Biomass

NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Community Development Corporation (MCDC) are partnering with eight Montana sawmills and public and private landowners to help develop community-based biomass power in Montana.  The partnership will create a coordinated business plan to enable the production of wood-fueled power in the state. The joint effort includes every player in the chain […]

NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Community Development Corporation (MCDC) are partnering with eight Montana sawmills and public and private landowners to help develop community-based biomass power in Montana.  The partnership will create a coordinated business plan to enable the production of wood-fueled power in the state.

The joint effort includes every player in the chain of biomass power production, including owners of existing forest products facilities, public and private landowners and a regional power purchaser.

Individual sawmills have previously worked on separate plans to produce and provide NorthWestern Energy with biomass generated power by constructing wood-fired plants at various locations in the state.  However, each mill encountered significant cost and technical issues when it came to delivering the power to the grid. NorthWestern wants to help bridge that gap.

“If this project moves forward it will help address the environmental impact of pine beetle blight, provide a local economic development impact, and help diversify electric supply for our customers.  We have discussed with our Congressional Delegation ways that federal energy and climate legislation could help support this exciting project,” said Bob Rowe, NorthWestern Energy’s President and CEO.

The partnership’s feasibility study includes analysis of the biomass supplies available on private and public land, potential biomass generation facilities, operational requirements and preliminary impacts of the biomass production on local economies and the environment.  Each of the eight mill sites will be assessed, so that NorthWestern and the sawmill businesses can identify and address issues such as connectivity to power lines, cost efficiencies, and technical problems.  The end result of the process will be a statewide plan that could enable all parties to finalize investment plans and begin plant construction.

The participating mills are Eagle Stud Mill (Hall), Plum Creek Timber (Columbia Falls), RY Timber (Townsend and Livingston), Pyramid Mountain Lumber (Seeley Lake), Sun Mountain Lumber (Deer Lodge), Tricon Timber (St Regis), and FH Stoltze Land & Lumber (Columbia Falls).

All of the state’s major forestland owners are participating in the partnership, including: US Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Plum Creek Timber, the Nature Conservancy, Stimson Lumber Company and the Blackfoot Challenge.

The Biomass Energy Feasibility Study is partially funded by a grant from The Montana Department of Commerce in the amount of $125,000, authorized by The Montana Reinvestment Act.  The US Endowment for Forestry and Communities provided a grant of $50,000 to support MCDC’s work with biomass energy in Montana.   Carlton Owen, Endowment president and CEO, believes this partnership could be a national model for woody biomass power generation.

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