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NorthWestern Energy’s Hydroelectric Operations Balance Reliability, Affordability and Sustainability

Date: Apr 16, 2024

TYPE: News

Hydropower generation is a clean energy source derived from Montana’s river systems with many benefits to customers. Three notable benefits to customers are hydropower’s reliability, affordability and sustainability — a balance that’s difficult to find in other forms of energy generation. NorthWestern Energy owns and operates 10 hydro generation

facilities and one storage facility in Montana, making hydro the largest generation source in NorthWestern Energy’s Montana portfolio.

Hydropower generation is simple, but not easy, explains NorthWestern Energy Director of Hydro Operations Jeremy Clotfelter. Dams create reservoirs with a water level that sits high above the generating unit. The weight and static energy in the water above the generating unit drives the water flow through turbines in the plant to generate electricity.

The NorthWestern Energy hydro system includes both run-of-river and storage facilities. Clotfelter explains that hydro is the original renewable resource and is uniquely reusable compared to other generation systems. Water flowing down a river generates electricity at every hydro facility on its downstream path to the ocean. NorthWestern Energy has seven hydro facilities on the Missouri River.

Hydropower has ancillary environmental benefits, even in years of drought. Water flowing from the dams’ generators provide cool, stable flows downstream that create a rich habitat for many blue-ribbon trout streams. Because water can be stored, it is more reliable and predictable than other renewable energy sources. Lastly, the steady river flows provide flood control and support irrigation for agriculture.

Montana hydro map

NorthWestern Energy has many regulatory requirements to manage programs protecting social, biological and cultural resources in their hydro licenses. NorthWestern Energy chooses to work collaboratively with public and private partners to implement programs across the state, covering well over 500 river miles. Partners are members of multiple Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) which determine how to distribute funding set aside each year by NorthWestern Energy to protect, mitigate and enhance natural and recreational resources. Specific TACs serve Missouri River Fisheries, Madison River Fisheries, Thompson Falls Fisheries, Mystic Fisheries and Aquatics, Missouri-Madison Recreation Projects and Missouri-Madison Wildlife. More than $71 million has been contributed to fund TAC projects and support recreation across Montana since 1998 by the hydros’ licensees.

In addition to TAC resources, the Missouri-Madison River Fund Grant Program is a public-private partnership to address ongoing needs for public recreation opportunities in the Missouri-Madison project area through collaborative grant funding. Since its creation in 2007, 169 organizations have received funding, totaling more than $12 million in public recreation enhancements.

Hydropower has provided reliable energy to Montana citizens for over 100 years. NorthWestern Energy is a proud steward of this valuable resource that provides a natural environment for Montanans to enjoy for generations to come.

For more information about NorthWestern Energy’s hydro generation, visit