Puget Sound Energy has signed a new deal for 350 MW of Montana wind and extended a 40 MW hydropower contract to help the utility move away from carbon-emitting resources and to rely less on short-term market purchases.

PSE signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy Resources for 350 MW from the developer's planned 750 MW Clearwater Wind Project, the utility announced June 2. The massive wind farm would cover parts of three counties and is expected to be on line by the end of 2022.

The utility would use transmission capacity freed up when Colstrip Generating Station units 1 and 2 shut down in 2020, PSE spokesman Andrew Padula told Clearing Up.

PSE owned half of the two units' 614 MW generating capacity and half of the associated transmission capacity. It still has a 25 percent stake (370 MW) of Colstrip units 3 and 4.

"There will be enough transmission capacity to deliver PSE's portion of Clearwater output and Colstrip 3 and 4," Padula said.

Construction of the wind project, located about 60 miles north of Colstrip, is expected to start this summer, according to news reports.

The PPA is part of the utility's effort to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2045, PSE VP of Energy Supply Ron Roberts said in a news release. "We've been saying Montana has great wind resources and this agreement demonstrates PSE's continued investment in Montana's energy economy."

Montana has much stronger wind generation than other areas in the Northwest, particularly in winter when PSE sees peak demand.

The PPA does not count toward renewable energy acquisition targets set in the utility's recently filed integrated resource plan, Padula said.

The plan's preferred portfolio included adding 400 MW of wind energy by the end of 2025 and a total of 1,500 MW of wind by 2031 (CU No. 1998 [10]).

In addition to charting a course away from carbon-emitting resources, the recent IRP also has PSE cutting its short-term power purchases at the Mid-Columbia trading hub from 1,500 MW now to 500 MW by 2027. The reduction is due to concerns about market availability (CU No. 1998 [11]).

Clearwater has been in some stage of development for nearly a decade. Orion Renewable Energy Group submitted an interconnection request for the project in 2015. The development proceeded in fits and starts after that, picking up momentum in 2019, when it began securing property tax abatements. Sometime before 2021, NextEra acquired the project.

Meanwhile, in late May, PSE announced a three-year extension of a contract with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation for their 5.5 percent share of Douglas County PUD's Wells Hydroelectric Project. Without the extension, the current contract was set to expire Sept. 20.

Colville's slice is compensation for flooding tribal land when the dam was built in the 1960s. The power is marketed by the PUD.

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Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.