The rivers of Montana have shaped both the land and our lives for thousands of years. Today, that also means supplying renewable energy. Hydropower generates zero-carbon-footprint energy for over 60% of the electricity needs of western Montana.

It means that the farmers, ranchers and small businesses throughout our state can support their families. It also means that other clean energy sources like wind and solar can be usable even when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

The river is still flowing. And a lot more than water flows from it.

Agriculture

Montana rivers irrigate over 2 million acres of farmland each year.

Renewable

In western Montana, renewable hydropower provides over 60% of our electricity needs.

Commerce

Low-cost hydropower provides power to Montana families, farms and businesses.

Recreation

Reservoirs provide Montana residents and visitors with places to swim, boat, fish and play.

Clean Air

Hydropower produces no air pollutants or carbon emissions.

Flood Control

Dams protect downstream areas from flooding and retain snow melt to reduce drought impacts.

Clean Hydro Fast Facts

Clean and Efficient
  • Hydroelectricity is the original Montana renewable resource. Dams store water from melting snow and rainfall in reservoirs, which is then released and passes through turbines to generate electricity. Water is the fuel that is reused over and over as it moves downriver through multiple dams.
  • The dams represent the use of engineering and water management to buffer us from climate variability. The impacts of reduced stream flow caused by climate change are reduced because of water storage in reservoirs.
  • Hydropower is an efficient form of electricity generation. It is capable of converting 90% of the available energy into electricity. Coal or natural gas plants are about 50% efficient. Wind turbines typically produce only 33% of their rated capacity.
  • Hydropower produces zero carbon emissions, helping to reduce Montana’s carbon footprint.
  • Dams in western Montana provide over 60% of our electric power needs.
Flexible, Reliable, Responsive
  • Hydropower is a flexible resource available nearly instantaneously to meet the ups and downs in electricity demand. Hydro literally turns the lights on at the flick of a switch.
The Source for Affordable Power
  • Hydropower keeps rates low by using the power of gravity and water rather than burning fossil fuels.
  • As the original renewable power resource, hydropower is more affordable than new renewables such as wind and solar.
Agriculture
  • Harnessing the power of Montana’s rivers makes the dream of a better life a reality and has created an economy that is still the envy of the world. The rivers and dams help irrigate locally grown food and livestock destined for areas throughout the country and world.
  • The value of Montana’s agriculture production exceeds $5 billion annually making it Montana’s most important economic activity.
  • Irrigation from the state’s dams and rivers provides water essential to the productivity of over 2 million acres of farmland.
  • Conversion to sprinkler irrigation in Montana has more than tripled alfalfa yields to nearly 3.5 tons/acre.
A River of Business
  • The value of livestock production in Montana exceeds $2 billion annually. Combined with food grain and feed crop production, agriculture is the number one economic activity in the state.
  • In recent years, over 11 million tourists visited Montana, spending $4 billion annually. Much of that tourism is directed towards Montana’s rivers, reservoirs and natural beauty.
  • Affordable energy is a keystone to any state’s economy and Montana energy prices are kept affordable through access to low-cost hydropower. While it is expensive to provide reliable electricity service to Montana’s wide-open spaces, low wholesale power costs are essential to keeping rates as low as possible.
Flood Control
  • Prior to the development of dams on many of the region’s river systems, flooding was a regular and devastating occurrence. Hungry Horse and Libby Dams in northwest Montana are crucial elements of the region’s flood control system.
  • Hungry Horse dam was completed in 1953 and was part of the response to the devastating Vanport flood of 1948. It alone provides about a 5% reduction in peak flood flows at Portland, Oregon.
  • Libby Dam was completed in 1975 and was the only dam constructed in the United States under the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. It provides both system flood control for the Columbia River Basin and local flood control reducing downstream flooding along the Kootenai River in Montana and Idaho.
Montana Hydro is the State’s Biggest Power Player

The most important source of electricity in western Montana is hydropower. Flathead, Glacier, Lincoln, Missoula, Ravalli and Vigilante Electric Cooperatives as well as Mission Valley Power receive 95% of their wholesale power supply from the Federal Columbia River Power System delivered by the Bonneville Power Administration.

NorthWestern Energy owns 11 hydroelectric facilities across Montana that are the largest piece of the company’s diverse energy generation portfolio. Thanks to the hydro system, more than 60 percent of the electricity NorthWestern delivers to its 360,000 Montana customers comes from clean, sustainable water and wind generation.

About Western Montana Utilities

The Flathead, Glacier, Lincoln, Missoula, Ravalli and Vigilante Electric Cooperatives plus Mission Valley Power provide over 130,000 Montana farms, ranches, families and businesses with clean, reliable, low-cost renewable hydropower.

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About NorthWestern Energy

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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 NorthWesternEnergy.com.ADD Box with Logos.