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$3.7 Million Ryan Dam Upgrade Will Add Cost-Effective, Low-Carbon Generation for Montana Customers

Mar 23, 2017

Butte, Mont. – March 23, 2017 – NorthWestern Energy has announced plans for a $3.7 million upgrade of three turbine units at Ryan Dam near Great Falls. The project, to be completed between 2017 and 2020, will allow the units to use water more efficiently and add more than five megawatts of generating capacity, boosting the dam’s maximum capacity to 71 megawatts.

“Our hydro facilities provide more electricity generation to meet our customers’ needs than any other type of generation,” said John Hines, NorthWestern’s vice president, Supply. “We expected upgrades like this would be possible when we purchased the dams several years ago and are excited to move forward on these very low-cost upgrades – especially because unlike other types of renewable generation, hydroelectricity can be counted on night and day and during times when our customers’ needs are greatest.”

The levelized cost for the Ryan upgrade will be about $7.20 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. For comparison, recent Qualifying Facility wind contracts have been in the $38 per megawatt-hour range, while some proposed solar projects are seeking contracts in the $65 per megawatt-hour range.

The multi-year project to upgrade the three turbine units started late in 2016 and will continue into early 2020.

Ryan Dam is one of five NorthWestern Energy hydroelectric dams near Great Falls. All told, NorthWestern owns 11 hydro facilities across Montana. Nearly 55 percent of the electricity provided to NorthWestern’s Montana customers is generated by water or wind. That percentage will grow in coming years with other potential hydro system upgrades and the recent signing of several new wind generation contracts.

Completed in 1915, the dam was originally called the Volta Plant. It was later named for John D. Ryan, president of the Montana Power Co. At its completion, the dam was believed to be the largest and most modern hydroelectric plant west of the Mississippi River. 

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About NorthWestern Energy (NYSE: NWE)
NorthWestern Energy provides electricity and natural gas in the Upper Midwest and Northwest, serving approximately 701,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. More information on NorthWestern Energy is available on the company's website at

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Butch Larcombe
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