Highwood Generating Station

From Global Energy Monitor

Highwood Generating Station was a proposed coal plant to be built outside of Great Falls, Montana. On September 16, 2011 there was a ribbon cutting ceremony held for the plant, which was switched its source of fuel from coal to natural gas because the fuel is seen as less environmentally damaging.[1]

Project History

The underlying rationale for Highwood Generating Station was unclear, since the energy utility co-operatives that sought to build the project needed only a fraction of the power; the rest would have been sold to the city of Great Falls and as merchant power.[2] The Helena City Council voted on Aug. 15, 2007, not to purchase power from Highwood, citing emissions concerns and other factors.[3]

Highwood received most of its permits; however, several permitting obstacles ended up blocking the project.[4] Citizens for Clean Energy (CCE) and the Montana Energy Information Center (MEIC) appealed the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s air permit, based on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling on greenhouse gas emissions. MEIC, CCE and the Sierra Club also sued the RUS over its final EIS and Record of Decision. [5] On Dececember 5, 2007 – after several hours of public hearings, in which dozens of community members expressed opposition to the plant – the Cascade County Planning Board voted to approve rezoning for the plant.

On December 21, 2007, the Montana Environmental Quality Board heard opening arguments from attorneys from Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission, as well as from CCE and MEIC, in its hearing to defend its May 2007 decision to approve the plant; a full evidentiary hearing is likely in Jan. 2008.[6]

In February 2008, the RUS decided not to provide financing for the plant, citing the "inherent risks associated with compounded delays" and concerns about financial feasibility in light of continually increasing cost estimates.[7]

Showdown at Highwood.

In January 2008, Citizens for Clean Energy and the Montana Environmental Information Center appealed Highwood's air permit with the Montana Board of Environmental Review (BER), raising health concerns and calling for further study of particulate matter emissions. In a 6-1 ruling in April 2008, the BER ordered more research on emissions of particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM2.5. The ruling made the Board the first regulatory body in the nation to order separate measurement and emissions controls for PM2.5.[8] Despite this ruling, Southern Montana announced that they were moving ahead with construction of the plant. Although the plant's boiler cannot be built, the company can work on other parts of the plant.[9] Environmental groups appealed this ruling, and a revised permit containing additional controls for particulate pollution is under consideration.[10]

In October 2008, Montana Environmental Information Center, Citizens for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club asked the EPA to order work halted at the plant because the air permit had still not been finalized. The groups said they would file a lawsuit if the EPA does not act within 60 days. The project still faces other challenges, including a lawsuit filed against Cascade County by MEIC and landowners over the rezoning of the site, and a suit filed by MEIC and Citizens for Clean Energy against the DEQ, alleging it should have required Southern Montana Electric to manage CO2 at the plant.[10]

Because of a November 2008 regulatory deadline, Highwood developers were forced to start building the plant with only enough money to lay the foundation. Widespread credit difficulties in the United States have impacted the plant's ability to secure financing. If additional financing fails, the electric cooperatives behind the plant may have to abandon the project and buy power from other sources.[11]

On January 30, 2009, developers of the Highwood plant voted to halt work on the coal plant. Citing regulatory uncertainty and environmental lawsuits, the developers have instead opted to pursue a 120MW plant that will be powered by natural gas with wind turbines for additional power.[12]

Project Details

Sponsor: Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission
Location: Great Falls, MT
Capacity: 250 MW
Type: Circulating fluidized bed
Projected in service: 2011
Status: Cancelled


Citizen Groups



  1. "Highwood Generating Station ribbon cutting today" Richard Ecke, GreatFallsTribue.com, September 14, 2011.
  2. Highwood Generating Station, Montana Environmental Information Center, accessed January 2008.
  3. “City Rejects Great Falls Power”, Helena Independent Record, August 16, 2007.
  4. Project Information, Highwood Generating Station, Southern Montana Electric, accessed January 2008.
  5. "BACT GHG analysis sought", Argus Air Daily, May 31, 2007, p. 3 (Pdf).
  6. “Appeal on Highwood Air-Quality Permit Open to Public”, Great Falls Tribune, December 21, 2007.
  7. Letter to Southern Montana Electric from the RUS, Montana Environmental Information Center, February 19, 2008.
  8. "State Orders More Study of Emissions", Great Falls Tribune, April 22, 2008.
  9. "Coal-Plant Backers Plan to Go Ahead with Construction", Helena Independent Record, May 31, 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Power plant critics ask EPA to stop construction," Missoulian, October 23, 2008.
  11. Matthew Brown, "Credit crisis dims the lights for power industry," Associated Press, November 17, 2008.
  12. Jan Falstad, "Highwood coal plant dropped for natural gas/wind," Billings Gazette, February 2, 2009.

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