Even though Montana is developing new forms of renewable energy through wind, bioenergy and geothermal, hydroelectricity is still the major contributor to renewable energy in the state. The State has substantial hydroelectric potential from its many rivers flowing down from the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains. Montana is one of the top hydroelectric producers in the country and six of the state's ten largest generating plants run on hydroelectric power. The state also exports a lot of the electricity generated by its hydroelectric dams to nearby states.
Some of the more recent upgrades and hydropower projects are listed below.
Rainbow Dam Hydropower Project, 62 MW
PPL Montana is undertaking this $230 million project to raise the existing Missouri dam located near Great Falls 1.5 feet and replace eight turbines that currently generate 37 MW with one updated turbine capable of producing 62 MW—a gain of 25 MW. The project was completed in September of 2012.
Gibson Dam Hydropower Project, 15 MW
The Gibson Dam on the Sun River on the Rocky Mountain Front near Augusta was originally built in the 1920’s and it was designed for electricity generating turbines but they were not installed. Toll House of Bellingham Washington is conducting this $25 million project to install the long awaited turbines capable of producing 15 MW of electricity. The developers have been going through the permitting process since 2004 and expect to receive final approval by May of 2011.
Turnbull Hydro Generation Project, 13 MW
Turnbull Hydro, LLC broke ground on their $10 million hydro electric power plant in July of 2010. The plant will generate 13 MW of electricity from irrigation canals in the Greenfield Irrigation District without affecting farmers’ ability to access the water. The project started operations in September of 2011.
Noxon Rapids Dam, 562 MW
Avista, the project owner, recently finished upgrading the Noxon rapids Dam, increasing the capacity by approximately 30 MW. Avista upgraded all four original generating units with new and more effecient turburbines. These upgrades will extend the life and the capacity of the dam, the $45 million project began in July of 2008 and was completed in February of 2012. The power created from the dam is sold to Washington and Idaho.