NorthWestern Energy plans Laurel Generating Station

By 
Kathleen Gilluly
Thursday, April 22, 2021

According to a press release dated Tuesday, April 20, NorthWestern Energy will build a new 175 megawatt reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE) natural gas plant in Laurel. There were no details on where in Laurel the plant will be or how many people will be employed by the plant after it’s built.

Laurel’s plant is only one part of the company’s plan to acquire 325 megawatts of “dispatchable capacity resources.” NWE also proposes to purchase of 100 megawatts of electricity from Powerex Corp. That electricity will be generated primarily from hydroelectric resources. The company also has a contract pending for what will be the largest battery-storage project in the state.

“This resource portfolio addresses a key portion of our immediate need for generation capacity while also allowing us to make progress toward our goal of an energy supply portfolio in Montana that reduces the carbon intensity of our electric generation by 90% by 2045,” said NorthWestern Energy Chief Executive Officer Bob Rowe.

According to the release, “North-Western Energy expects to submit an application for approval of the Laurel Generating Station and the 20-year contract for the pending Energy Storage Project to the Montana Public Service Commission on or about May 14, 2021.” They anticipate the regulatory process to take approximately nine months.

The $250 million Laurel Generating Station is reported to be up and running to serve customers by Jan. 3, 2024.

“For the 175 megawatt natural gas-fired RICE plant near Laurel, Caterpillar Power Generation Systems, LLC, a subsidiary of Caterpillar, Inc. will supply the RICE units and Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company, Inc. was selected as the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractor,” reads the release. It continues, “The Caterpillar RICE units are highly reliable and efficient with low emissions. The selected engines are capable of rapid ramping and multiple daily starts and stops. These units have the flexibility to provide power on-demand, baseload power, flexible capacity, and regulation services. These characteristics will facilitate the integration of existing and new intermittent renewable energy resources into our portfolio.”

According to other news reports, carbon dioxide emissions from RICE units are about 50 percent of what a coal plan would emit producing the same amount of power.

The news about the new plant comes as the American Lung Association reports that Yellowstone County’s grade for short-term particle pollution has dropped from a D to an F.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution (also known as soot) and ozone (smog) over a three-year period. The report covers 2017-2019. The Lung Association notes, “ Both particle pollution and ozone can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular damage and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.”

Although Laurel is home to the largest railyard in the state and to the CHS refinery, Laurel does not have an air pollution monitor. The DEQ maintains an air-pollution monitoring station in Lockwood.

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