Montana news round-up: Co-ops voice concerns, BPA provides updates & 9th plan public comments

June's Council meeting was held in Montana's capital, Helena.

Electric co-ops’ presentation

Members of electric co-operatives in Montana spoke to the Council about power system adequacy, renewable resource reliability, and the growing risk of wildfire. Pete Simonich, trustee for the Missoula Electric Cooperative, said recent changes in the operation of the federal Columbia River hydropower system would likely result in co-ops in Montana relying on more expensive market purchases to meet seasonal peaks in power demand, as well as renewable sources that are more intermittent than hydropower at meeting peak demands. Co-ops in Montana get 329 average megawatts of electricity from the Columbia hydropower system, which is enough to serve 200,000 residents. (View presentation | watch video)

“The market prices for electricity are three times higher than the BPA tier one power rate,” Simonich told the Council. “We need to do the right thing that balances the interests of all the stakeholders.”

Mark Lambrecht, director of government relations for the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association, told the Council about another growing area of concern for co-ops – wildfire liability. He related a story of Dillon-based Vigilante Electric Cooperative , which was billed $5.2 million by the U.S. Forest Service related to a 2021 wildfire.  Lambrecht said the Forest Service’s claim did not show evidence of negligence by Vigilante, which has an annual operating budget around $15 million. He said co-ops and MECA are currently advocating for policies and other solutions to address the issue in Montana and at the federal level, but noted the risk it may pose for other energy providers in the Pacific Northwest. The Council is also considering how to analyze the risk wildfires pose to resource adequacy as part of the upcoming power plan.

Looking over Helena, Montana

BPA provides updates to resource program, provider of choice policy

Ryan Egerdahl, manager of long-term power planning, and Eric Graessley, public utilities specialist, of Bonneville Power Administration presented an update on its resource program development.

The resource program is scheduled to be finished this fall, and will inform potential resource acquisition strategies subsequent to BPA’s 2028 contract negotiations. Egerdahl and Graessley presented findings from two studies that are part of developing the resource program – a needs assessment and market assessment. (View presentation | watch video) Both studies are similar to ones conducted by the Council, and Power Division staff have worked closely with BPA staff on the studies’ technical questions and assumptions.

Under the Northwest Power Act, Bonneville’s resource acquisition decisions should be consistent with the Council’s power plan. The Council’s 2021 Power Plan recommends acquiring between 270 and 360 average megawatts of cost-effective energy efficiency by the end of 2027, at least 243 average megawatts from programs, and at least 865 average megawatts by 2041. The plan also recommends that Bonneville help customer utilities acquire low-cost demand response, consider market resources when needed, and explore renewables as an alternative to market purchases as part of a least-cost solution. The Council is starting to prepare for its next power plan, with a goal of completion by late 2026 or early 2027.

  • One key takeaway from the needs assessment is that significant load growth is expected for many Bonneville customers. Should customers place a portion or all of it on Bonneville, it will need to acquire additional resources.
  • On the market assessment, average price forecast levels in the Northwest have increased moderately. The Inflation Reduction Act (including electrification load growth) is expected to significantly increase buildouts throughout the Western Electricity Coordinating Council territory. This factor, combined with improved modeling of energy storage operations, resulted in an increase to the projected market depth that will be available to meet BPA’s energy needs.

Kim Thompson, BPA’s vice president of requirements marketing, also briefed the Council on the agency’s final provider of choice policy. This process is working towards the new long-term power sales contracts post-2028, and the policy offers a framework for negotiating the contracts. BPA issued a record of decision on the final policy in March. Bonneville is working toward having signed contracts by the end of 2025. Through this process, BPA will garner a clearer picture of the obligation it will have to serve over the lifespan of those contracts. (View presentation | watch video)

Public comments on ninth plan issue paper

Power Division Director Jennifer Light briefed the Council on public comments that were submitted from an issue paper staff produced this spring, to help with early preparations for developing the ninth power plan. (View presentation | watch video) The Council received 21 comments from members of the public as well as technical experts, utilities, tribes, and advocacy groups. Staff review all the comments; some have been incorporated into the early preparation analysis, while others will be subject to further review and discussion among the Council’s advisory committees. The process for developing the ninth plan is expected to officially commence in 2025. The Council appreciates and thanks everyone who took time to review the issue paper and submit comments, because robust public engagement from across the Northwest is vital to successfully developing and implementing a power plan.