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Rural Electric Cooperatives and Wind Power

There is a widely held perception that Rural Electric Cooperatives (REC) are generally not interested in pursuing renewable energy. On closer look, this does not appear to be true, although the general population and some wind power activitists would likely disagree.

To have an accurate picture of the variables involved in developing alternative energy in Montana, NARFI is taking a closer look at the Montana rural electric cooperatives and their positions regarding green power through a research aagenda "Interconnection of Small Customer Generation Facilities: A Study of Montana Rural Electric Cooperatives."

The three main goals of this research are:

  1. To accurately determine what the issues are that co-operatives face regarding wind power projects seeking to hook into their systems
  2. To assess the similarities and differences between Montana's RECs in renewable energy project policies and application/approval processes
  3. To compare Montana co-ops with RECs in other states on the same issues

The research is a four phase plan aimed at opening a constructive, non-adversarial dialog between the electric co-ops and wind activists/developers in Montana.

Phase One - acquiring demographic data for all Montana cooperatives and the distributed generation interconnection policies they have adopted, determining if and how these policies differ from each other.

Phase Two - reviewing the application and approval processes for alternative energy projects co-op by co-op, to find similarities and to determine differences among all 26 electric co-ops and then between co-ops and investor owned utilities.

Phase Three - gathering existing research that examines cooperatives in the United States particularly studying the impacts, benefits and lessons learned for those utilizing wind energy.

Phase Four - analyzing the information obtained in phases 1-3, to determine how wind energy may or may not fit into Montana's rural electric cooperative market.

NARFI is maintaining a neutral position in this research, seeking to get issues on the table on both sides, so common ground can be uncovered.

The data contained in Phase One of this study was collected through direct contact with each of the twenty-six Montana co-ops through in-depth telephone interviews and extensive email communication. Information was also obtained directly and via email from the Montana Electric Cooperative Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and their research branch, the Cooperative Research Network, NorthWestern Energy, Montana Dakota Utilities, Bonneville Power Authority, and the Western Area Power Administration.

Phase One is complete. Click here to access a pdf file of the Phase One findings. As each phase is complete, results will be posted here.

For more information contact Leah Noel by e-mail or telephone at 406-265-6354.