Spokane Journal of Business

Avista eyes Montana winds for new energy resource

Upgrades to biomass, hydro plants planned

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Avista Corp. has set its sights on new wind power generation and upgrades to its existing renewable energy sources as part of the company’s push toward its clean energy goals. 

Jason Thackston, senior vice president of energy resources with Avista, says the company has set goals that include providing customers with a carbon neutral supply by the end of 2027, and to be generating from 100% renewable energy by 2045. 

Currently, nearly half of the company’s energy comes from renewable sources.

Natural gas accounts for about 40% of the company’s annual energy capability; hydroelectric, 35%; biomass, wind, solar, and waste 13%; and coal 12%. 

“We have started from a good position,” says Thackston. 

The company outlines its strategy in its Integrated Resource Plan, which is updated every two years and is used to evaluate supply and demand of resources and present strategies in line with Avista’s goals over 20-plus years.

Its most recent iteration was released this month. 

These strategies also help Avista to meet state mandated goals. The 2019 Clean Energy Transformation Act set a goal of removing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity supply by 2045. The Energy Independence Act, also enacted in 2019, requires electric utilities serving at least 25,000 customers to use renewable energy and energy conservation and to set two-year conservation goals.  

The company estimates by 2030 carbon emissions are expected to decrease 74% compared to 2019 emissions. That’s about 2.2-metric tons of carbon, or about 4,800 pounds, which is the roughly the weight of an adult rhinoceros.

Avista has been steadily increasing its renewable energy sources. 

In December 2020, the company doubled its wind generation with the addition of the Rattlesnake Flat Wind Farm, which is located near Lind, Washington in Adams County, to its portfolio. The Palouse Wind Farm was the first the company brought online, he says.

Moving forward, Avista has set its sights on Montana as a stable source of wind power generation, says Thackston. 

“We’ve identified wind as a cost-effective resource based on what we know today,” he says.

In general, Montana winds also blow at different times from Avista’s existing wind farms, which will help make wind a more stable source of energy, he says.

The company hasn’t set a timeline for establishing a wind farm in Montana, but the process will follow Avista’s process for establishing any new resource. The company will send out requests for proposal to solicit bids from developers and will analyze them to determine what would be most beneficial for customers, he says.

“We want to make sure our customer’s bills remain affordable. That’s the lens. Affordable, reliable, clean. We’re looking through all three of these lenses as we’re making these decisions about what resources we select,” he says. 

Avista plans to also upgrade its existing hydroelectric and biomass facilities. Those projects are expected to occur in 2026, he says. 

As part of its clean energy goals, and those set by Washington state, Avista estimates the upgrades to its hydroelectric and biomass facilities, along with acquiring an additional 375 megawatts of energy, will allow it to meet or exceed the state’s clean energy requirements. 

“It’s not just about new generation. We also continue to focus on energy efficiency and helping our customers use their energy wisely, because oftentimes that’s the most cost-effective way to serve new needs by customers,” says Thackston. 

Thackston says the company will exit its share of the Colstrip mining plant in Montana, which generates electricity from coal, by 2025.

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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