Hundreds of people attended NaturEner’s opening ceremony Sept. 14 for the Rim Rock wind farm just north of Cut Bank, Mont., to celebrate overcoming the considerable challenges in making the wind farm a reality.
“There was a time last summer when we were doubtful we were going to be able to pull this off,” said Greg Copeland, Development Director of the U.S. division of the Spanish-owned NaturEner.
Rim Rock wind farm contains 126 turbines capable of creating 189 megawatts of power. Originally, the farm was supposed to include 206 turbines creating 309 megawatts of capacity, but the project ran into several problems, mainly the economic downturn.
In addition, the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd transmission line that would connect the wind farm to the grid, a joint venture between original project developer Tonbridge and Western, stalled for nearly two years.
A new developer, Canadian company Enbridge, acquired Tonbridge Oct. 13, 2011 and took over the project. Then, on Aug. 27, Enbridge paid back the $151 million loan to Western’s Transmission Infrastructure Program, essentially buying us out of the project.
“Funding from WAPA was essential to getting the MATL power transmission project off the ground,” said Richard Bird, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Development for Enbridge Inc. “Their continued support has been of great assistance during the development phase of the project. Now, as the MATL project approaches completion, it is beneficial for us to replace WAPA’s initial funding with conventional financing sources available to us. We look forward to working with WAPA on future transmission projects.”
Enbridge expects MATL to be completed by the end of the year. Until then, Rim Rock is feeding power to grid using a new substation and tie line to an existing entry point.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer believes this wind farm represents the future for Montana: “Just in the last eight years we’ve gone from less than one megawatt of electricity produced, and when we finish this project it’ll be 650 megawatts – more than $2 billion dollars invested in wind energy in Montana and thousands of high paying construction jobs. Wind is good in Montana.”