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NorthWestern Energy has big plans for Laurel natural gas plant

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Posted at 6:10 PM, Apr 23, 2021

Northwestern Energy officials say their planned $250 million natural gas power plant in Laurel will help address a growing capacity deficit and bring jobs to the area.

“The key piece here is that It will help us keep the lights and on and help us blend in renewable energy which is intermittent in our portfolio,” John Hines, vice president of supply and government affairs for Northwest Energy, said this week.

The Butte-based utility announced their plans Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, the 175-megawatt natural gas plants would be online by the start of 2024. With the future of coal very much up in the air and the wind not always blowing, Hines says the natural gas power plant will play an important role, increasing capacity and reducing the risk of volatility in prices for customers during extreme conditions. The plant isn’t intended to run all the time, mostly only when temperatures are very cold or hot.

“We are around 600 megawatts short, to put in a relative term. Almost 40 percent of our entire portfolio is dependent upon the market and if you look at what happened in Texas when they were dependent upon the market, we don’t want that to happen in Montana. In fact, some of those residents had a $10,000 fee for one month just because they are on the market,” said Hines.

Hines says the plant will be state of the art for air quality and will be located in a non-residential area of Laurel. He isn’t saying just where yet until all the contracts are finalized. It is expected to create a lot of jobs at least in the short term.

“We are expecting hundreds of jobs to be created during the development phase and we are looking at over a year of construction time. We have been working with the contractor to make sure as many local people can be hired as possible. They are also working with the local union shops to ensure that we can hire as many union people as possible. And then afterwards, we are looking at probably 10 or 12 highly skilled jobs," he said.

Natural gas-fired power plants are considered to be much cleaner than coal-powered plants but still release carbon emissions. The plant still needs regulatory approval, and the company anticipates it will take around nine months.