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Project Would Make '100-Year Battery' for Renewables Out of MT Landscape

An artist rendering of Gordon Butte Storage Hydro Project shows where the two reservoirs for the system would be located. (Absaroka Energy)
An artist rendering of Gordon Butte Storage Hydro Project shows where the two reservoirs for the system would be located. (Absaroka Energy)
March 14, 2018

MARTINSDALE, Mont. – A proposed project in central Montana would create a huge battery for renewable energy sources out of the natural landscape.

The Gordon Butte Pumped Storage Project is a closed-loop hydroelectric facility created from two reservoirs – one at the bottom of the ridge and the other 1,000 feet above it.

Sources such as wind and solar would pump water to the upper reservoir to create stored potential energy. When the wind stops blowing or the sun isn't shining, energy could be released.

Carl Borgquist, president and CEO of Absaroka Energy, the company heading the project, says it would make renewables more reliable and that the battery itself would be environmentally friendly.

"The first maintenance cycle on this facility is at year 27,” he states. “So this is a 100-year battery. It doesn't really wear out, ever. It can be cycled back and forth from complete discharge, let's say, back to full storage without creating any degradation."

The facility would be located near Martinsdale. It's already received a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is seeking financing for its $900 million construction.

Absaroka is banking on the Pacific Northwest, where energy consumption is large and there is growing interest in powering the grid through renewables.

Borgquist says the project may cost more to build than other batteries but that it is inexpensive to operate and cleaner, since it only uses water and not typical battery chemicals such as lithium.

The project would also be situated near transmission lines that stretch from Colstrip in eastern Montana to the Northwest.

Colstrip will be hurting as energy companies shut down two of its coal-fired plants in the next four years.

Borgquist hopes some of those workers will help operate the Gordon Butte project.

"It may not be a one-to-one evolution out of coal into different things – gas and wind and solar as a replacement – but we are aware of and excited and encouraged about trying to create jobs, and create opportunity and tax base, and benefit for our state," he states.

Borgquist says he hopes to wrap up contracts with utilities this year and begin construction in 2019.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT