Bright Magazine: Environment 2022

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VOL 02 ENVIRONMENT DECEMBER 2022 A PUBLICATION OF NORTHWESTERN ENERGY How Do Power Lines Protect Birds? Fueling Our Future with RNG The Spirit of Curling Salted Caramel Pumpkin Pie Recipe tell us a lot about river health

Together we are working to deliver a bright future.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE is published four times a year by NorthWestern Energy. The publication is free with postage paid by NorthWestern Corporation d/b/a NorthWestern Energy. It is printed and published by the Communications & Creative Services Department, 11 E. Park St., Butte, MT 59701.

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Editor in Chief:

Bobbi Schroeppel

Managing Editor: Erin Madison

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Photographers: Derek Baune Jo Dee Black Alissa Byrd Tom Glanzer Amy Grisak Grant Grisak Ridley Hudson Erin Madison Susan Malee Nathan Norby Brandy Powers Cassie Scheidecker Beth Stimatz Amie Thompson

Contributing Writers:

Jo Dee Black Alissa Byrd Jeremy Chase-Israel Amy Grisak Grant Grisak Butch Larcombe Erin Madison Bob Rowe Mary Gail Sullivan Amie Thompson

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BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 3 CONTENTS / 12 Tiny Insects Tell Us a Lot About Rivers Each summer, our hydro compliance team samples macroinvertebrates to monitor the conditions of Montana’s rivers. BRIGHT STORIES 20 Recovery of the Pallid Sturgeon NorthWestern Energy provides funding for research, equipment and personnel to help recover the pallid sturgeon. 18 Fueling Our Future NorthWestern Energy is focused on the future of renewable natural gas (RNG). 22 For the Birds NorthWestern designs new power poles to reduce bird electrocutions and collisions. 48 The Spirit of Curling Two NorthWestern Energy employees created a curling league in Helena, Montana. 44 Sunshine-Powered Ponies A Carousel for Missoula introduced solar power to Missoula’s favorite painted ponies. VOL 02 ENVIRONMENT DECEMBER 2022
SECTIONS 4 On a Bright Note 5 The Bright Side 6 Bright Spots 12 Bright Stories 48 We Are NorthWestern Energy 52 Bright Idea 54 Our Roots 56 NorthWest Corner 59 Bright Flavors 60 By the Numbers 62 Can You Find It?
I took this picture on a beautiful autumn day on my way home from Hebgen Dam. The fall colors were in their prime, and I was really hoping to capture anglers fishing the Madison River. Everything came together when this drift boat came into frame and passed under the bridge. Follow
work on

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I am not a customer of NorthWestern Energy, but I love reading your magazine, and I’m a fan of Montana's energy story - keep up the great work!

Over the last 14 years, NorthWestern Energy:

• Increased the critical energy infrastructure dedicated to serve our customers from $2.5 billion in 2008 to more than $7 billion in 2022.

• Acquired or developed diverse energy supply resources with long-term value, notably the 456-megawatt Montana hydro system, and continued to improve that system.

• Invested more than $1 billion in clean energy resources. The hydro system, along with owned and contracted wind and other resources, positions NorthWestern Energy so 56% of the electricity provided to our customers in Montana and South Dakota is from carbon-free resources.

• Invested $1.1 billion in infrastructure to modernize and increase the reliability and flexibility of our energy delivery system, and supported the deployment of technology throughout the company.

• Reduced customers’ exposure to the volatile regional energy markets by buying or building generation resources dedicated to serving our customers at prices based on the cost of production. CEO Bob Rowe emphasizes, “In Montana especially, this is critical unfinished work.”

• Partnered with the communities we serve on economic development and to meet customer and community needs.

• Piloted and deployed new technologies that will serve our customers over the coming years.

• Most importantly, fostered a culture built on results, service, safety, learning and caring.

NorthWestern Energy and our employees are stewards of our states’ and communities’ most critical infrastructure and providers of the most essential service. It is our responsibility to do our work well, so our customers and communities can do their jobs, pursue their visions, raise their families and lead rich lives. If the energy system fails, or doesn’t keep pace with requirements, first responders, health care providers, teachers, farmers and countless others can’t do their important work.

I will retire as NorthWestern Energy’s CEO in January. It has been a privilege to work with and serve Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park for more than 14 years. Our focus was and is on building a company that is financially sound and operationally excellent. In order to keep our commitments to our customers, we are energy-service-focused, community-focused and customer-focused. We are now stewards of more than $7 billion of our region’s most critical infrastructure. We’ve emphasized a company culture of safety and service, which was on display last spring and summer during NorthWestern Energy’s response to major storms and flooding in South Dakota and Montana.

We have also worked hard to be good stewards of our environment, with programs focused on the health of our rivers, fish and birds, among many others. Mary Gail Sullivan, our Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance, was recently honored with the national hydro industry’s highest award for her dedication to stewardship. And, we have embarked on a realistic and actionable plan to further reduce our overall carbon footprint from already low levels, while preserving both reliability and affordability, and investing in infrastructure to meet our customers’


needs. We have also expanded that long-term commitment from electric supply to the entire company (natural gas as well as electricity, delivery as well as supply). We recognize we have a long ways to go. And, we recognize we must keep our foundational commitment, as reflected in the vision and mission we adopted early in my time with NorthWestern:

Vision: Enriching lives through a safe, sustainable energy future.

Mission: Working together to deliver safe, reliable and innovative energy solutions.

My longtime colleague and now close friend, incoming CEO Brian Bird, and our other company leaders will build on the foundation of what has been accomplished, working with the states we serve. Brian joined NorthWestern as CFO in 2003. Since becoming COO in February 2021, Brian has worked with our operational leaders to advance projects essential to serving our customers long-term. He’s been spending lots of time in the field with our employees and in our communities. He also led our development of a comprehensive ESG (environmental, social and governance) plan. With Brian as CEO, NorthWestern Energy will continue to focus on: providing our customers an ever-better experience and service; securing sufficient infrastructure capacity to serve our customers reliably and affordably; advancing our energy infrastructure to make it smarter, more reliable and flexible; deploying technology that is cost-effective and has proven value for our customers; and enhancing our environmental stewardship.

In the last months of 2022, Brian and I traveled across our service territory, meeting with our employees and leaders in each community to say thank you for the opportunity to serve and work with them. It was

sometimes emotional for both of us. There is nothing better than working with good people on things that matter, and no better basis for friendship. Over my career with NorthWestern, I’ve made great friends both within and outside the company, based on working together to achieve things that mattered.

Although I will hand in my security badge and laptop on Jan. 2, I will continue to be a NorthWestern Energy customer and care deeply about its success in meeting its responsibilities to our customers. Five years from now, I hope and expect that under Brian’s leadership, NorthWestern will be an even stronger partner supporting the sustainable growth of the states we serve; a long-term steward of the natural resources with which we are entrusted; deploying technology to surprise, delight and empower our customers; serving our customers the way they want to be served; driven by an engaged and committed company culture; all enabled by a purposeful, efficient and flexible regulatory model supporting a sustainable business model.

I am excited and optimistic about NorthWestern Energy’s bright future. It has been a privilege to work with the dedicated people at NorthWestern for more than 14 years, and, especially to serve and support the extraordinary people across our wonderful part of the country.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 5

Montana: During NorthWestern’s Chautauqua event in September, we held a raffle and 50/50 to benefit the American Red Cross.

Butte: We’re proud to support Montana Tech Highlands College’s pre-apprenticeship line program to help build the next generation of line workers. In October, we unveiled a billboard to promote the program.

Butte: “The Special Olympics Montana State Basketball Tournament is in the books, and NorthWestern Energy and its employees helped pull off this incredible event,” said Paul Babb, Community Relation Manager – Butte Division, who served as a co-director of the tournament.

More than 700 athletes and unified partners from 85 teams from across the state competed. Approximately half of the Special Olympics Montana competitors are youths, the other half adults, ranging in age from 8 to 79.

Gina Konen, BT Assets and Records Manager, put together an incredible Opening Ceremony and Dance Carnival that treated athletes to a celebratory evening filled with dancing, music and a high-energy carnival atmosphere.

The tournament heads to Helena for the next three years.

Butte: We had a great time volunteering at Treat Street on Halloween in Butte, where we handed out glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth.

There’s so much to celebrate in our region! Here are some highlights from across our service territory (shaded in blue).

Great Falls: This summer, an eaglet fell out of a bald eagle nest near Ryan Dam, outside Great Falls.

“It had some pretty serious broken bones,” said Grant Grisak, NorthWestern Fisheries Biologist, who responded after our hydro crew found the injured eagle.

Grant consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, who reached out to the Wild Skies Raptor Center in Missoula. Grant helped transport the young eagle to the center. Wild Skies worked to rehabilitate the animal, and when it was ready, they brought the bird to Ryan Dam where Hydro Superintendent Jerry Gray helped release it.

Grant is optimistic the eagle will thrive in the wild.

“It was old enough to fly and old enough to capture its own food,” he said. “They’re pretty resilient birds.”

To thank Wild Skies Raptor Center for its work, NorthWestern Energy made a donation to the organization.

Bozeman: When ESPN College GameDay rolled into Bozeman for the 2022 University of Montana vs. Montana State football game, NorthWestern Energy was there to welcome them. The GameDay bus came into town a block away from the NorthWestern office, so we decided to roll out two bucket trucks holding flags as they drove past.

Bozeman: As part of the Gallatin Watershed Council’s annual Gallatin River Cleanup, 16 employees from the Bozeman Division, along with our CEO Bob Rowe, spent an afternoon removing garbage from Glen Lake Rotary Park waterway and the surrounding park land. Our volunteers removed tires, steel drums, car parts, shopping carts and more – enough to fill several dumpsters.

“Every team member put in an incredible amount of effort,” said Heather Priest, Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Gallatin Watershed Council. “The stewardship shown by your team is crucial in events such as the Lower Gallatin Watershed Cleanup.”

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 7
Billings: Every year we help Riverstone Health hang the lights on the Hospice Tree of Lights, which helps remember our loved ones and reconnect with those who cared for them.

Huron: Ten NorthWestern Energy employees participated in the Give Cancer the Boot Breast Cancer Walk. All proceeds from the walk go to the “We’ve Got You Covered” fund, which provides education and awareness to increase the number of women receiving regular mammograms and offers free mammograms to women in need.

Redfield: We took part in the “Career Here” event to help show students various career opportunities. NorthWestern District Supervisor Todd Fenner was on site with a line truck to help field questions from students.

Huron: We had a blast volunteering at the 15th annual Day of Caring for United Way in Huron. Employees volunteered their time to scrape, prime and paint a house all in one day.

Huron: Our Huron employees donated 125 non-perishable food items to United Way. The donations benefit the United Way’s backpack program, which provides food to school-aged children in need.

Huron: Our Huron employees joined the Truck or Treat event in downtown Huron. They handed out candy from a “haunted” bucket truck.

Vermillion: We shared our story as an employer and information about our internship program with college students at the University of South Dakota’s Career Fair. We had a great time talking with them about careers in energy and the cool things we get to do here at NorthWestern!


South Dakota: Horizon Health Care sent us a video message to thank us for our partnership and support over the years. Watch the video at

Howard: We provided grant funds to the Miner County Historical Society to help with an energy efficiency project at the Rural Life Museum.

NorthWestern Energy Community Relations Specialist Angie Christiansen also volunteered her time to design new signage for the museum.

Madison: NorthWestern employee Sid Gulbranson volunteered his homemade barbecue grill and time to prepare pork loin for the vendor appreciation meal at Prairie Village Days in Madison.

Sioux Falls: Twelve Sioux Falls employees dedicated their time to make a positive impact in their community during the Rake the Town event. This city-wide event serves individuals within the Sioux Falls city limits, Brandon, Harrisburg and Tea over the age of 60 who are not financially or physically able to do the yardwork themselves.

Sioux Falls: Our Sioux Falls employees participated in Sioux Empire United Way’s Lunch and Learn event at the Sioux Falls Corporate office. In 2022, employees donated $55,000, making our total giving with our corporate donation $96,220. We are proud to be a part of this amazing organization!

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 9
OUR TEAM The real power behind our company comes from our people. From our environmentally focused biologists to our hydroelectric engineers, we do our best work when we come together as a team. We are proud to offer competitive wages and benefits, including: • 401(k) with company match up to 4% and non-elective contribution up to 7% • Health care and well-being programs  Including dental and vision for you and dependents, Health Savings Account (HSA), Health Care and Dependent Flexible Spending Account (FSA) • Employee Assistance Program • Life insurance • Tuition reimbursement • Competitive pay with a dependable company  Scheduled performance-based wage increases  Annual incentive opportunities • Paid volunteer opportunities • Paid trainings • Paid time off, starting day one • Paid holidays To see all of our available positions, visit NorthWesternEnergy. com/Careers or scan the QR code with your phone’s camera.


The centralization of operations allows our new Yankton facility to save operational costs, reduce overhead and increase efficiency.

Change is something we all have to adapt to. That’s precisely the mindset NorthWestern Energy operated with when considering our customers and employees in Yankton, South Dakota.

When planning the layout for our new Yankton office, employees turned to our recent office renovation in Mitchell, South Dakota.

“We reflected on lessons learned from our Mitchell location and adjusted it to make the few improvements we recognized and bring those into this facility here in Yankton,” said Brad Wenande, NorthWestern Energy South Division Manager.

Previously, we served our Yankton customers by operating from two separate locations. The change to one centralized location improved our ability to respond promptly to customers' needs.

“Office staff reported to a downtown location, and there was a separate facility where the linemen reported to work,” Brad said. “We had some material storage at the warehouse, but it was small and cramped, which forced us to have two, sometimes three, other locations around town that we also used to store material. It was inefficient from a materials perspective.”

Centralizing is a positive change for Yankton.

“We evaluated multiple sites during the process,” Brad said. “The one we selected is on the outskirts of town. It has easy highway access for us to get the bigger trucks and equipment in and out, but it’s still in a commercial district within the community. So for customers, it doesn't feel like it's inconvenient for them to come in and pay their bills or ask


Eight overhead doors within one warehouse were carefully planned to improve safety while providing convenience for our crews. These doors are located parallel across one another, promoting a safe work environment for crews to enter and exit the building while driving forward. This feature significantly reduces the need for backing up equipment.

The exterior of the new facility features a larger yard space for crews to work in while staying within the fenced-in and secured area.

“The yard is large enough now that we're able to store all of our material and equipment,” Brad said. “So we've gained efficiencies in that aspect, because we can pick up all of our material that we need for the work for that day right here at one location.”

NorthWestern built this facility with sustainability and longevity in mind. The building has a natural gas-fired backup generator, a feature not present in the former facilities. In order to prevent erosion and maintain landscape integrity, the gravel yard was infused with a cement mix designed specifically for exterior environments during periods of water runoff. A water retention area is incorporated into the site design to manage runoff, ensure proper drainage and avoid potential flooding issues to neighboring properties. The LED light fixtures located throughout the building help reduce electricity use and create an energy-efficient environment.

The centralization of operations allows our new Yankton facility to save operational costs, reduce overhead and increase efficiency.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 11
Our Yankton operations used to be spread out across several locations. Our new Yankton facility brings everyone together in one office.
tell us a lot about river health
Anglers enjoy an autumn afternoon on the Madison River.

Although they’re small, macroinvertebrates, or aquatic insects, are important indicators of how a river is doing.

“They can tell us about the overall health of a river system,” said Jordan Tollefson, Water Quality Specialist with NorthWestern Energy.

Every summer, NorthWestern Energy’s Environmental Group covers some 300 miles collecting macroinvertebrate samples throughout the Missouri-Madison river system.

Macroinvertebrate sampling has been occurring since 2000, with some sites going back as far as 1996. It’s one of the longest continuously running data sets in the state.

The macroinvertebrate data allows us to see trends over time. For example, NorthWestern Energy scientists have found through this data collection and monitoring process that macroinvertebrate populations respond to changing environmental conditions. Macroinvertebrate communities in the Madison and Missouri rivers in 2018 were extremely healthy following the high spring river flows. However, drought conditions last year led to low river flows and a more tolerant community of macroinvertebrates.

This large data set allows us to compare different factors to get a big picture of what’s going on in the river system.

“Everything ties together,” Jordan said.

The group monitors 11 sites starting inside Yellowstone National Park and going all the way down river to below Morony Dam. The macroinvertebrate sampling is done at the same time every year, in late summer when water is lower and easier to work in.

Macroinvertebrates are large enough to see with the naked eye, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to spot in the river. To collect samples, Jordan and his team select a 2-foot square area and scrub the rocks to knock off the insects. They also rake the river bed to kick up bugs hanging out on the river bottom. Another sampler stands downstream holding a net to collect everything that flows downstream during the raking and scrubbing.

It takes three to four days to monitor all

macroinvertebrates is done by scrubbing rocks and raking the river bed, with a net used to capture material that flows downstream.

can tell us about the overall health of a river system.
“ “  Gathering
- Jordan Tollefson, Water Quality Specialist with NorthWestern

the sites. Various partner organizations, including Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, pitch in to help with the field work.

“It’s a good chance to get some face time with our partner organizations,” Jordan said.

The Hydro Compliance Team also measures water temperature, pH and looks at chlorophyll levels, which offer insight into the overall nutrient levels in a river. They look at sediment and fish data as well.

The data collected is used to create bioassessment scores. Bioassessment scores are a way to provide a measure of environmental stress on macroinvertebrates, and those scores are developed based on a reference to expected normal or natural conditions. In 2021, 10 of the 11 sites monitored had lower bioassessment scores when compared with 2018, indicating a decline in the health of macroinvertebrates, likely due to ongoing drought conditions.

This monitoring and data collection is one of the many requirements outlined in the licenses that allow us to operate dams on public waterways.

Scan this QR code with your phone’s camera to watch a video about our river conservation efforts.

Hydro Compliance

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 15
Each summer, NorthWestern’s
Team samples macroinvertebrates to monitor the conditions of Montana’s rivers.
 (top) A team of NorthWestern employees gathers macroinvertebrates in the Missouri River. (bottom) NorthWestern Energy Biologist Jon Hanson gathers samples during our annual macroinvertebrate testing.


Managing the Madison River System’s resources is a constant exercise of balance. NorthWestern Energy relies on data and forecasting tools, the expertise, experience and input of our partners, and tested best practices to meet the diverse needs and many interests and priorities of multiple stakeholders year-round.

Drought, flooding and mechanical failure over the last year created added challenges to the work of protecting and maintaining the longterm health of the river system and fishery.

“The Madison River System is a community of diverse members, partner agencies and stakeholders,” said NorthWestern Energy Director of Hydro Operations Jeremy Clotfelter. “A critical piece to creating a successful balance for the management of this river system is the dedication and investment of these members, and that valuable dedication was on display through this past year.”

Low snowpack and little spring rain and snow, followed by a hot, dry June and July in 2021 resulted in low water levels at Hebgen Reservoir at the end of July. With almost daily pulse flows required downstream at Madison Dam to maintain water temperatures at a safe level for fish in the lower Madison River, property owners in the Hebgen Lake area and recreationalists were cautioned to expect low water levels through the end of year.

Community involvement is key to successful management of the Madison River System.

On Nov. 30, 2021, a coupling on a gate at Hebgen Dam failed, causing the gate to partially close, reducing water flow into the Madison River downstream. While NorthWestern Energy’s hydro engineers and personnel from across the state worked around the clock to identify the cause of the Madison River flow reduction, NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks mobilized volunteers to protect the fishery.

Fish stranded by the Madison River’s low water level were moved to deeper channels, while NorthWestern Energy personnel worked with a professional dive team to assess the gate failure and make repairs. The gate was repaired and outflows to the Madison River were restored 46 hours later, just before midnight on Dec. 1, 2021.

Although the Madison River community rang in 2022 with hopes of a solid snowpack to replenish low reservoirs and streams, by the beginning of April, a second challenging season of drought with too little water to fully meet the needs of the system seemed inevitable.

NorthWestern Energy worked with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders on options to conserve water.


 (from left) The Madison River downstream of Hebgen Dam. A diver with Associated Underwater Services prepares to make a repair on the gate at Hebgen Dam. A crane is used at Hebgen Dam to make repairs on the dam’s gate. Crews hold a safety meeting before beginning the repairs on Hebgen Dam.

Snowpack in the Madison River Basin was at 76% of normal levels. Water releases at Hebgen Dam were reduced in April to capture more water in Hebgen Reservoir, conserving it to supplement flows during the heat of the summer to reduce stress on fish.

More than 70 community members, business owners and other stakeholders met on April 26 in Ennis to hear presentations on the snowpack/runoff forecasts, fish population status, Madison fisheries TAC projects and more from NorthWestern Energy staff and other stakeholders. It was also an opportunity to hear concerns and receive feedback.

Then, the last weeks of May brought above-average precipitation, capped off with several days of substantial quantities of rain and snow.

In mid-June, while historic flooding impacted a widespread area of southern Montana, Hebgen Reservoir water levels rose rapidly and water releases increased to prevent overfilling.

“Hebgen Reservoir levels are monitored and managed year-round to prevent the reservoir from over-filling, which would compromise the integrity of the dam, risk public safety and violate our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license,” Jeremy said. “The situation that occurred this spring is exactly why careful management is critical.”

A couple of weeks later, the newly assembled Madison River Drought Management Stakeholder Engagement team held the initial meeting. Members represent anglers, outfitters, businesses, property owners, agriculture, partner agencies and NorthWestern Energy, who meet monthly with a professional facilitator to discuss concerns and operating constraints with the goal of improving understanding, communications and potentially identifying different operations to improve conditions during dry, low-water years.

“The commitment of the members of this new team to the work of this project is commendable,” said NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan. “Their collaboration is helping identify management tools that will be of great

value for all stakeholders.”

NorthWestern Energy’s analysis and corrective action plan for the Nov. 30, 2021, Hebgen Dam gate failure, along with how the effect of the incident on the fish population will be assessed, was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal licensing authority for NorthWestern Energy’s Missouri-Madison Hydroelectric Project.

The four couplings on the originally failed gate at Hebgen Dam were replaced in September. Inspection of additional couplings on a separate gate have led to their replacement as well.

Fishery monitoring, including electrofishing surveys of the Madison River below Hebgen Dam, has increased, along with long-term fish population estimating work.

Working with our resource agency and non-governmental organization partners, including Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Madison Conservation District, Madison River Foundation and other local entities, projects to mitigate streambank erosion, including new fencing to keep cattle out of streambeds on tributaries of the Madison River, were identified.

“The Hebgen Dam gate failure didn’t create a situation that caused an entire year-class of fish to be lost,” said NorthWestern Energy Manager Hydro License Compliance Andy Welch.

The monitoring and mitigation plan approved by FERC enhances what is already in place to support the Madison River fish population with our partners, Andy explained. FERC agreed this is the right work for the long-term health of the fishery.

“The Madison River System community is committed to and invested in the work required to meet challenges, collaborate on longterm management plans and find solutions that best meet the diverse interests of its members,” Jeremy said. “NorthWestern Energy is honored to be part of this community.”

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 17



The Renewable Natural Gas Process Feedstock Biogas Biogas Upgrading
NorthWestern Energy is focused on the future of renewable natural gas (RNG) and is committed to our continued growth and investment in RNG technology.
Waste Source
By Alissa Byrd
Anaerobic Digester  Renewable natural gas from the Mill Valley RNG facility ties into our system at Milbank, South Dakota.  The digesting tanks, where methane is captured, are under construction.

In 2016, Reed McKee, Director of Transmission, Distribution, Business Development and Strategic Support at NorthWestern Energy, began to explore growth and development opportunities for the company.

“My thinking at the time was, there's so much going on with renewables in the electric industry,” Reed said. “Why isn't there more going on the gas side? Or is there an opportunity?”

Reed began to look into renewable natural gas (RNG) as an opportunity to bring green energy to the gas side of the business.”

RNG is a pipeline-quality gas derived from biomass or other renewable sources, such as farms or wastewater treatment facilities.

Reed has worked to build relationships with multiple RNG developers in South Dakota. Today developers mainly focus on dairy farmers, utilizing animal waste (manure) to produce RNG. The developer builds and owns the digester, extracting methane from manure, while NorthWestern builds and provides an interconnection to our natural gas system.

“NorthWestern Energy was one of the first energy companies in South Dakota to sign an agreement and be a part of this process,” Reed said.

RNG is a critical part of achieving our goal of having net zero methane emissions. In most cases, renewable natural gas sources — farms or wastewater treatment facilities — emit methane into the atmosphere. Methane that would otherwise be emitted is captured, conditioned for quality and used in the natural gas system. Due to this capture process, RNG is usually a carbon-negative fuel and will help compensate for any remaining unavoidable emissions on our natural gas system.

“I compare this opportunity for NorthWestern to the ethanol industry development in South Dakota in the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” Reed

said. “When that opportunity presented itself, NorthWestern recognized the renewable development opportunity and business growth opportunity, and today we serve 13 ethanol plants.”

As of November 2022, NorthWestern has three RNG interconnect projects at various stages of construction, with a projection of receiving renewable gas into the system as soon as the first quarter of 2023. These three projects will inject an estimated 1 billion cubic feet (Bcf) annually. They are just the start of a rapidly growing opportunity. NorthWestern continues to work with developers with an additional opportunity of 1 to 2 Bcf annually by late 2023 or early 2024. RNG is likely a significant offset opportunity we will be able to use to ultimately reach our Net Zero by 2050 goal.

RNG allows us to create natural gas from a process that occurs naturally in agriculture rather than drilling for it. It also allows us to inject gas into our system in strategic locations based on reliability and growth areas.

By participating and investing in this sustainable resource, NorthWestern Energy is contributing to the growth of the RNG industry. Our investment provides sectors such as agriculture and transportation with innovative opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Our partnership with RNG developers will support our mission of being a good steward of the environment while also meeting customers' needs for reliable and affordable service. Through these partnerships, we're taking another step in meeting our energy needs, as well as bringing added economic and environmental benefits to NorthWestern's service territory.

Renewable Natural Gas Distribution System Injection Natural Gas Delivery

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 19
Digesting tanks turn manure into biogas.
A sandtrap is used to filter sand from the manure.


Pallid sturgeon live nearly as long as humans, 60 to 75 years. However, their reproduction is incredibly slow.

It takes about 20 years for a pallid sturgeon to reach sexual maturity, and then females only spawn about once every four years. After hatching, pallid sturgeon larvae require specific conditions in order to survive. When pallid sturgeon eggs hatch, the larvae begin swimming frequently and higher up from the river bottom.

“When they swim up, they get caught by the current, and they move downstream pretty fast,” explained Grant Grisak, Biologist with NorthWestern Energy.

That downstream drift is critical to pallid sturgeon survival. They need to drift for about 180 miles.

Historically, pallid sturgeon used the entire length of Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The larvae from a fish that spawned in Montana might drift as far as Iowa. Then, when it reached maturity, that fish would likely come back to Montana to spawn.

“They could basically go all the way from Montana to the state of Missouri,” Grant said.

When the large flood-control dams were built on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, it fragmented the habitat of pallid sturgeon and greatly shortened adult habitat segments and larvae drifts. That, combined with over-fishing, took a hard toll on pallid sturgeon, driving them nearly to extinction, resulting in the species being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1990.

For 32 years, funding has been provided for research, equipment and personnel to help recover the pallid sturgeon from endangered listing. Recovery efforts have included stocking hatchery-raised pallids in the Missouri River starting in 1997.

(from top) NorthWestern helped transport about 800,000 pallid sturgeon eggs from a hatchery in South Dakota to the Miles City, Montana, hatchery.

One million pallid sturgeon eggs were transported from South Dakota to Montana for a larval drift study.

Pallid sturgeon larvae need to drift downstream for about 180 miles.

For more than 30 years, funding has been provided for research, equipment and personnel to help recover the pallid sturgeon from endangered listing.


Although recovery efforts for pallid sturgeon have been in the works for more than three decades, progress moves slowly when fish only spawn once every four years.

“You can see why it takes so long to perpetuate these fish,” Grant said.

This spring, NorthWestern Energy, Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Bureau of Reclamation determined flows in the Marias River, a tributary to the Missouri, would be high enough to conduct a larval drift study. During the study, pallid sturgeon larvae were released in the Marias at sites that mimic likely spawning locations. Then, water was sampled at increments downstream to determine how far the larvae drift and how many survive.

and drove them to the fish hatchery in Miles City, Montana.

A few days later, those eggs hatched and the fish were released in the Marias River, giving them about 200 miles of drift before they reached Fort Peck Reservoir.

Biologists then traveled downstream to collect water samples and determine if any of the larvae survived. The biologists, however, were in for a pleasant surprise.

A week after the release, while working at Robinson Bridge on the Missouri River, about 155 miles downstream from the release site, 10 radio-tagged pallid sturgeon showed up in a pool of the river, along with an unknown number of non-radio-tagged fish.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 21
NorthWestern Energy Biologist Grant Grisak holds a pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River.


One cause of mortality for large birds is electrocution caused by power lines. That’s why NorthWestern Energy builds all new power poles to be avian safe to help protect birds.

NorthWestern Energy incorporates guidelines developed by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) into its standards to make sure all new power poles are built in a way that will help reduce bird electrocutions and collisions. APLIC, which is housed under the Edison Electric Institute, has decades of experience promoting bird conservation, and NorthWestern Energy draws on that expertise for new construction.

What is an avian-safe power pole?

Birds can be electrocuted by power lines if their wings, or any other parts of their body, touch two pieces of energized or grounded equipment simultaneously, such as two conductors or one conductor and one ground wire.

Eagles are the largest raptors in North America and their wingspans make them prone to contacting two lines at once. APLIC recommends 60 inches of horizontal separation and 40 inches of vertical separa-

tion between lines to protect eagles. NorthWestern Energy adds more distance vertically to protect the tallest birds in our service territory, sandhill cranes.

When we build new power poles or replace old ones, all new poles meet these guidelines.

The APLIC guidelines are based on the size of an eagle, which means the spacing is safe for smaller raptors that have smaller wingspans, as well.

“If we create distances that are safe for eagles, then something like a red-tailed hawk is automatically safe,” said Marco Restani, NorthWestern Wildlife Biologist.

Adding insulation to existing poles

We have nearly 30,000 miles of electric lines in our Montana and South Dakota service territories. When we replace old poles or install new ones, we make sure they’re avian safe, and if we have a known issue with birds in an area, we install insulation over the conductors.

“We can put plastic covers on one or two of the lines and that will get us back the 60 inches of spacing needed to protect eagles,” Marco said.

NorthWestern Energy designs new power poles to reduce bird electrocutions and collisions.
 A juvenile red-tailed hawk flies by a transmission line in northcentral Montana.

Preventing bird-power line collisions

We also work to prevent birds from colliding into power lines, which is especially common for waterfowl. In fact, waterfowl populations in both Montana and South Dakota have increased significantly since the early 1970s and represent a conservation success story.

Ducks don’t have great depth perception. With eyes located on the sides of their head, they have a huge range of vision, but poor depth perception because their binocular field of view is limited, Marco explained. Ducks also tend to fly straight and fast, flapping their wings more rapidly than other species of birds because of their heavy wing-loading.

“They can’t see real well, and they’re flying fast, which is a bad combination when flying near power lines,” Marco said. “Geese and waterfowl also move around a lot late in the day or early in the morning when the light isn’t great.”

Detecting power lines under those environmental conditions can be challenging for birds.

In order to prevent waterfowl from colliding with our power lines, we install bird flight diverters on the lines to make them more visible to birds. We use them in collision-prone areas between feeding and resting areas.

A lineman installs a bird flight diverter on a power line near Sheridan, Montana. These diverters help make power lines more visible to birds in order to prevent bird-power line collisions.


T Pavilion

Power Park in Thompson Falls, Montana.

When the Thompson Falls hydroelectric plant was built in 1915, employee housing was constructed on a piece of land along the river on Maiden Lane. Eventually, the housing came down and the land was transformed into a community park. In the 1950s, Montana Power built a pavilion with bathrooms in what had become Power Park.

In 2021, the pavilion burned in a suspected arson.

“It was a complete loss,” said Noel Jacobson, Foreman at the Thompson Falls Plant. “But there’s never been any question on whether we were going to rebuild the pavilion.”

After the fire, NorthWestern Energy worked with the community of Thompson Falls to decide how to replace the burned structure. We conducted a community survey to determine whether people wanted another pavilion or something else in the park.

“NorthWestern asked for a lot of community input,” said Thompson Falls Mayor Mark Sheets. “There is a lot of community buy-in.”

The survey showed the community wanted the burned pavilion to be replaced with something similar.

“We upgraded it quite a bit,” Noel said.

NorthWestern constructed a new, larger pavilion with bathrooms nearby in a separate structure. The bathrooms are accessible, and the pavilion will include an L-shaped kitchen with a sink and outlets. There

After the Power Park pavilion in Thompson Falls, Montana, burned in a fire, NorthWestern Energy immediately got to work to rebuild the community landmark.
Noel Jacobson, Foreman at the Thompson Falls Plant, stands in front of the new Power Park pavilion.  Montana Nursery and Landscape Supply delivers the trees that were planted in Power Park.

will also be a new drinking fountain with a water bottle-filling station and a spigot close to the ground for pets.

The beams used for the new pavilion came from a timber mill in St. Ignatius, Montana, the same mill that supplies boards for use in the dam.

“All the materials are from the area,” Noel said.

In October, a group of NorthWestern Energy employees and volunteers gathered to plant 12 new trees in Power Park. The trees were also local, grown by Montana Nursery and Landscape Supply in Trout Creek, a small community northwest of Thompson Falls. The trees are a mix of chokecherry , aspen and linden.

Power Park already has many large shade trees. As those trees age, the new trees will grow to replace them.

Power Park is just one small piece of the 400 acres of land in Thompson Falls owned by NorthWestern.

“Most of it is open to the public for recreation,” Noel said.

There are public trails winding through much of the property and a 32-acre island that can be accessed by a historic bridge.

“Power Park is kind of the central hub for the trail system in Thompson Falls,” Noel said.

It’s also a popular gathering spot. The old pavilion was used for weddings, Easter egg hunts, birthday celebrations and more.

“I’m kind of in charge of maintaining this,” Noel said, looking around Power Park. “I take a lot of pride in it, and so do the guys who work for me.”

The Power Park pavilion and restrooms will officially open the public in spring 2023.

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Brandy Powers, NorthWestern’s Director of Brand, Advertising & Customer Communications, helps plant a tree in Power Park.
NorthWestern Energy employees and community members take part in the tree planting event at Power Park.


Billings becomes

 With assistance through the NorthWestern Energy E+ Renewable Energy program, the city of Billings installed a solar photovoltaic system on the MET Transit Center in downtown Billings. The center was also the first new transportation facility in the United States to achieve LEED Platinum in 2010.

Earlier this month, the city of Billings announced it achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Cities Gold certification, making it the first Montana city to do so and the 21st city globally to be Gold certified.

NorthWestern Energy is proud to partner with Billings to help the city achieve the LEED Gold certification. NorthWestern helped Billings with numerous energy-efficiency projects. Billings also scored points in the renewable energy category thanks to NorthWestern’s Montana electric generation portfolio being 59% carbon-free.

Billings achieved LEED for Cities certification by submitting details about existing projects and strategies across the city that are aimed at improving sustainability and the standard of living for residents. The certification program is designed to help cities manage their performance across natural systems, energy emissions, transportation and land use, water, waste and quality-of-life categories. The LEED certification was created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and is the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

“Transforming our cities to be more sustainable happens structure by structure, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. Billings

understands the value of LEED and through certification is setting goals and deploying strategies that are appropriate for their local environment and residents,” said Peter Templeton, president and CEO of USGBC. “Each new LEED certification is one step closer to revolutionizing the places where we live, learn, work and play.”

“We congratulate the city of Billings for their dedicated work with energy efficiency and sustainability, while also creating cost-saving opportunities for their community members, and earning the distinction of becoming the first certified sustainable city in Montana, ” said NorthWestern Energy President and COO Brian Bird.

Billings has a long history of leadership in energy efficiency, sustainability and cost-saving efforts.

Historically, the city implemented 168 energy-efficiency projects, estimated to save 9.4 million kilowatt-hours per year, equal to about $815,448 per year in annual electric cost savings based on current electric rates. These included 143 lighting, electric equipment, Variable Frequency Drives and special projects that received $1,222,416 in NorthWestern Energy’s Efficiency Plus (E+) Program incentives.

In addition, the city utilized $706,571 in Large Customer Universal

first LEED certified city in Montana.

Systems Benefit credits for 25 projects.

The city’s effort to become LEED certified was implemented by the Energy and Conservation Commission. In 2019, the Billings City Council created the ECC, composed of seven residents with backgrounds in energy or conservation, including Debbie Singer, who retired from NorthWestern Energy in late 2022. The ECC is tasked with examining the city’s energy and water usage and developing strategies for energy and water conservation, recycling, alternate fuels, alternate transportation, alternate energy sources and buildings that are more efficient.

“The effort to become certified by the LEED for Cities program involved extensive research and documentation. It also revealed the tremendous efforts by city staff and department leaderships over the last 10 years to implement innovative projects to make the city more energyand resource-efficient and sustainable. All this was done while saving costs and being good stewards of city resources,” the commission wrote in a statement.

“Congratulations to the citizens of Billings on this great accomplishment,” said NorthWestern Energy CEO Bob Rowe. “We are privileged to be a partner in your impressive effort.”

Project highlights include:

• In 2021 and 2022 alone, the city of Billings implemented 46 NorthWestern Energy E+ Commercial Lighting and 11 E+ Commercial Electric (VFD & Chiller) projects, estimated to save a combined 2.1 million kWh per year, equal to about $130,000 per year in electric savings. These 57 energy-efficiency projects received $179,240 in rebates. This includes a major water treatment plant energy-efficiency project that received a $62,500 NorthWestern E+ Electric rebate. It saves 729,581 kwh per year, equal to $30,471 per year in electric cost savings.

• LED lighting has been installed throughout city facilities including the airport, fire stations, library, parking garages, Billings Operations Center, new City Hall (Stillwater Building), police barn, police evidence building, water treatment, water reclamation and parks. In 2021 and 2022, the airport completed 17 LED lighting projects, saving 222,549 kWh per year. The major airport expansion/remodel includes LED lighting.

• The new proposed west-end reservoir and water treatment facility is an example of sustainability and efficiency. The reservoir will become Billings’ primary freshwater source. The current system (built in 1914) is severely lacking storage capacity and can only provide eight to 10 hours of water, should there be a supply issue. By locating the reservoir and water treatment facility closer to the west-end growth areas of Billings, it is anticipated this project will save the city $200,000-$300,000 per year in electric costs, currently spent on pumping water long distances and uphill from the present water treatment facility.

• The city has implemented numerous water conservation strategies including utilizing ditch water for irrigation at a number of parks. Parks have also implemented water-conserving irrigation systems and controls. Public Works implemented new water pricing structures to incentivize customers to use less water.

• The city owns two LEED Platinum buildings:  MET Transit Center was the first new transportation facility in the United States to achieve LEED Platinum in 2010.

 The Billings Public Library received LEED Platinum in 2014.

• With assistance through the NorthWestern Energy E+ Renewable Energy program, the city installed 43 kilowatts in solar photovoltaic systems at Fire Station 3, the downtown MET Transit Center and the library. These systems save 57,367 kWh per year.

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After launching reduce, reuse and recycle guidelines in January 2022, NorthWestern Energy employees continue to change the way we work, take our breaks and celebrate our successes.

Changing habits isn’t easy, though. Some employees, especially those who already had changed their habits at home, bought right into the goals, which include purchasing sustainable office and building supplies, ridding the buildings of single-use plastic products and recycling as much as reasonably possible. Others have been slower to come around, needing someone in their building to take the lead.

In Anaconda at the Dave Gates Generating Station, for example, it’s been a mindset switch led by Jason Boeckel, NorthWestern Compliance Coordinator and Sustainable Procurement Committee member.

“We produce copious amounts of power and don’t tend to naturally think about sustainability,” Jason said. “We are normally focused on availability, reliability, safety and making mass megawatts of power. We look at replacing lights with LEDs and saving power, fuel and water. You know, the big things!”

About a year ago, though, the team started working on reducing usage of disposable items. They have a lot of onsite lunches and wanted a solution to reduce the use of paper plates, plastic utensils and disposable water bottles.

“This prompted us to purchase a couple sets of new dishes and raid some of our excess camping gear for utensils,” Jason said.

With a small purchase of plates, and finding a new use for unused utensils from home, the group has started to see results.

“We also have excellent drinking water, so we started utilizing our own reusable water bottles instead of using disposable coffee cups and bottled water,” Jason added.

While the generating station’s stash of dishes isn’t always enough for a large group, they have tucked their paper goods out of sight so

they aren’t tempted to use them every day. In addition, they have started purchasing compostable plates and utensils to use for those larger gatherings.

To continue to further the cause, NorthWestern’s Sustainable Procurement Committee has put together a list of employees who will be invited to join a change agent network.

The members of the change agent network, or CAN, will bridge, or translate, between the inner workings of our project and the rest of the organization. The change agent network helps give all employees working on the project a voice.

Those chosen for this task include employees who order supplies, employees who frequently order meals for meetings and gatherings and those who self nominated for the role and are passionate about sustainability.

Though this is an effort that employees will incorporate into their existing role, it won’t be a heavy lift. Essentially, this effort is about making adjustments in how NorthWestern approaches the things we already do to be thoughtful about sustainability.

After attending a change agent workshop, they will get their duties, which will include monitoring for changes, making suggestions and gathering success stories. Sometimes change agents will be asked to share information back to their teams or answer a quick survey. And of course, they will be asked to follow the guidelines when they are tasked with ordering supplies or planning a lunch. Fun, quarterly CAN meetings will help the group stay on task as team members will report wins and suggestions.

The idea, of course, is to continue to promote change until it is second nature for our employees to bring their reusable water bottles to work rather than grabbing a single-use water bottle, or to recycle soda cans and more.


Change agents help lead their peers in NorthWestern Energy’s efforts to reduce, reuse and rethink.

Jason Boeckel, Compliance Coordinator, gives a tour of the Dave Gates Generating Station.


Credits help keep carbon dioxide sequestered in soil.

Many Montana ranches face financial pressure to convert native prairie and grasslands to row crops. However, tilling up grasslands can be detrimental to the local ecosystems.

Native prairie provides wildlife habitat. It also keeps carbon that has been sequestered in the soil for thousands of years out of the atmosphere.

Last year, NorthWestern Energy entered into an agreement with The Climate Trust to purchase carbon offset credits generated at the Veseth & Veseth Ranch in Phillips County, Montana. In the agreement, NorthWestern pays for Veseth & Veseth not to till its native grasslands, and, in exchange, NorthWestern can claim the carbon credits toward our Net Zero Vision.

“Our goal is to continue to improve our carbon footprint,” explained Mary Gail Sullivan, NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance.

The Veseth & Veseth Ranch project will sequester almost 140,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over its 50-year life. NorthWestern Energy is purchasing the credits for 21,800 of those tons.

The Veseth & Veseth Ranch worked with the Nature Conservancy to establish a conservation easement, which means the 28,000-acre ranch will continue in perpetuity. Through The Climate Trust, the project and carbon offsets were then made available on The Climate Action Reserve exchange.

“You can think of it kind of like a mitigation bank, you make a deposit to buy the carbon offsets” Mary Gail said. “In addition to the carbon offsets, it has the added benefit of protecting the landscape as natural habitat for birds and other wildlife. It’s a win-win.”

Read our entire Net Zero Vision at

NorthWestern Energy is purchasing carbon offset credits generated at the Veseth & Veseth Ranch in northeast Montana.

NorthWestern Energy’s Mary Gail Sullivan receives the hydropower industry’s highest honor, the Henwood Award.


By Jeremy Chase-Israel  HDR Senior Vice President of Renewable Energy Service Richard Miller presents NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan with the National Hydropower Association’s Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award, the industry’s highest honor.

At the National Hydropower Association’s Clean Currents Conference in October, Mary Gail Sullivan, Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance at NorthWestern Energy, received the Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award. The Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award is the hydropower industry’s highest honor, and, each year, the award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated unwavering commitment to the hydropower industry.

“I’ve had a tremendous career, but even as I look forward to spending more time with my grandkids, I don’t plan on quitting my advocacy or support for hydropower,” Mary Gail said after the awards ceremony. “I plan to keep pushing for hydro to be the resource of choice to address the climate crisis.”

Born in Montana, Mary Gail has made a life for herself in the Treasure State, and it has served as the backdrop for her career, family and love of the environment. After graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in outdoor recreation, Mary Gail was hired by the Environmental Department at the Montana Power Company. She held various positions, including Director of Hydro Relicensing for nine hydroelectric projects on the Missouri and Madison rivers. It was in this role that Mary Gail fostered innovative stewardship solutions for the protection, mitigation and enhancement of the river along its 525-mile route.

“I like the water – it’s the original renewable, and it’s reusable,” she said. “Our projects use the same drop of water over and over again. I’ve always been drawn to water, and I’ve always had opportunities to work with it in my career. I deeply care about the environment, and I want to leave the world a bit better for the next generation. I believe hydropower is part of the climate change solution.”

Demonstrating impressive leadership skills during her tenure as the Director of Hydro Relicensing, Mary Gail eventually became the Manager of NorthWestern Energy’s Environmental Department. She helped guide NorthWestern’s purchase of 11 hydroelectric projects in Montana.

For every hurdle she faced, Mary Gail overcame challenges with poise, clear communication and an infectious attitude that radiated positivity. Through her hard work and determination, Mary Gail helped educate and convince the Montana Public Service Commission of NorthWestern Energy’s responsibility and unparalleled stewardship of the river, emphasizing the importance of environmental compliance.

“Mary Gail is a friend, mentor and an inspiration,” said NorthWestern Energy CEO Bob Rowe. “Doing the right thing, in often complex and

contentious settings, is always her North Star I value her ability to reach across generations to find shared values with people who sincerely disagree with us, and we with them.”

The talent Mary Gail demonstrated in the management and execution of the multiple agreements for the hydropower projects is the result of her fairness and honesty – qualities Mary Gail ascribes to the nature of all Montanans. These characteristics make her the ideal relationship manager for the important communication and trust needed to foster cooperation with Montana’s tribal nations, as well as the maintenance and protection of the state’s environmental resources – a priority for Montana residents.

Mary Gail is a hydropower champion, carrying the industry’s torch with a pragmatist’s mind and a reverence for understanding all sides. Having led as President of the Northwest Hydropower Association, board member of National Hydropower Association and key supporter of the Women in Hydropower Mentorship Program, her enthusiasm for the industry is contagious.

Whether she is mentoring the next generation of hydro workers, spending time with her family or playing tennis, the passion she brings is unparalleled. Mary Gail’s character embodies that of Dr. Kenneth Henwood, and her dedication to hydropower is representative of the same industry legends who received the award prior.

About the Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award

The Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award is presented by NHA to an individual within the waterpower industry who exhibits:

• Dedication to hydropower as an energy technology.

• Persistence in the face of institutional obstacles.

• Appreciation and understanding of the relationships among project engineering, environment and economics.

• A strong commitment for fair dealing and plain speaking.

• Uncommon energy, enthusiasm and excitement as a leading force in the industry.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 35
NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan helped guide NorthWestern Energy’s purchase of 11 hydroelectric projects in Montana.


The 50-foot cottonwood trees that line the banks of the Missouri River are important for birds, wild game and even fish.

“They provide good habitat for a lot of wildlife along the river,” said NorthWestern Energy Biologist Grant Grisak.

Cottonwood trees provide shade for animals and homes for birds. When a large tree falls into the river, in manipulates the river’s flow, creating new islands, sandbars and deep holes for fish.

Historically, cottonwood trees would naturally repopulate along the river through the flood cycle, Grant explained. Cottonwoods release cotton and deposit seeds all along the sandy river benches.

“They would start to repopulate by the thousands,” Grant said.

However, most of the young trees

wouldn’t survive a year. Instead they’d be sheared off by ice jams.

“In order for cottonwoods to go through their natural cycle, you just need millions of them,” Grant said.

With the dams that were built on the Missouri River more than a century ago, the river doesn’t flood like it used to. Cottonwoods still release seeds, but floodwaters no longer reach the sandy river benches, meaning those seeds don’t have enough water to grow into trees.

NorthWestern Energy’s license that allows us to operate the hydro facilities on the Missouri River stipulates we are required to restore native vegetation along the river, namely cottonwoods. We have long worked with partner agencies to plant cottonwood trees, but recently we’ve taken a different approach to the effort.

 NorthWestern Energy Biologist Grant Grisak shows off one of the 550 cottonwood trees we planted near Giant Springs State Park.

Rather than planting one or two larger trees here or there, we’ve recently begun planting hundreds of small trees to create new groves of cottonwoods.

“One tree isn’t wildlife habitat,” Grant explained. “We need to plant many trees at each site.”

At our tree planting sites, we also install irrigation and fences to prevent animals from grazing the trees. This allows the trees to get a foothold, and then we can remove the fence and irrigation.

Earlier this year, we planted 550 trees on 8 acres near Giant Springs State Park just outside Great Falls, Montana. The grove of young trees is fenced and each tree is irrigated. So far, we’ve seen a 97% survival rate at the site.

“They’re doing really well,” Grant said.

Another site, five miles downriver of Fort

Benton, Montana, was burned in a forest fire in 2017. Cottonwoods, chokecherries and other trees would begin to grow each spring, but then would be eaten by deer. NorthWestern recently fenced 11 acres of the site to protect the volunteer trees from grazing deer.

We’ve partnered with the Audubon Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, the Bureau Land Management, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

“There’s been a lot of buy-in on it,” Grant said.

The trees we’ve planted are still small, and it will be a couple decades before they provide wildlife habitat along the river.

“If you want to 50-foot cottonwood tree, you have to be thinking 25 years out,” Grant said. “We’re trying to build a future for cottonwood trees.”

At our cottonwood tree planting sites, we install irrigation and fences to prevent animals from grazing the trees. This allows the trees to get a foothold, and then we can remove the fence and irrigation.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 37
NorthWestern Energy is focusing on the future by planting new groves of cottonwood trees along the Missouri River.


Montana Department of Environmental Quality honors NorthWestern Energy’s commitment to protecting the environment and water quality.

NorthWestern Energy Supervisor of Environmental Permitting Sady Babcock and Environmental Compliance Specialist Beth Stimatz were honored in May 2022 with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Water Protection Bureau’s Environmental Excellence award.

Presented at the annual Stormwater Conference in Missoula, the award recognizes professionalism, collaboration and coordination, customer service and hard work to protect water quality.

“Your leadership, management, attentiveness and responsiveness to all situations helps promote positive outcomes for all parties involved,

including water quality,” said Montana Department of Environmental Quality Water Protection Bureau Lead Compliance Inspector Christopher Romankiewicz. “Further, you always place value in working positively with Montana DEQ. Thank you for all that you do.”

“It is an honor to be recognized by the Montana DEQ, and NorthWestern Energy does value the positive working relationship,” said Sady, who joined NorthWestern Energy in 2013. “The support we have received from NorthWestern Energy management and environmental department staff has been instrumental in the development of the program. The responsiveness and professionalism of the Montana DEQ stormwater


They’re our partners with a common

protecting the environment for all Montanans.

-Beth Stimatz, NorthWestern Energy Environmental Compliance Specialist

“ “

These three photos show the Morel to Butte Gas Transmission project. The two photos on the left show the project while under construction, and the photo on the right shows the right-of-way after it was reclaimed.


program staff has been outstanding and has made our jobs easier.”

“They are our partners with a common goal, protecting the environment for all Montanans,” said Beth, who joined the NorthWestern Energy Environmental Permitting and Compliance department in 2015 after 14 years in the Safety, Health and Environmental Service department. “I can reach out to them with questions or for input and that helps improve our projects.”

“I am really proud of our storm

water program, and it is better because Sady and Beth have formed such good relationships with the DEQ staff,” said NorthWestern Energy Director Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan. “They understand the needs of our company and that working with our regulators constructively is good for our customers, our communities and for the environment”.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 39
 NorthWestern Energy Specialist Environmental Compliance Specialist Beth Stimatz, left, and Supervisor of Environmental Permitting Sady Babcock, right, pose with Mary Gail Sullivan, Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance at NorthWestern Energy.



In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Montana was booming. Copper mines, smelters, streetcars, railroads and lights all required electricity, which led to power companies building transmission power lines across the state. One of those lines was the Valley-Two Dot Power Line, constructed between 1907 and 1913 to bring power from the dams in Great Falls to the town of Two Dot.

The Valley-Two Dot Line also provided power to the Milwau kee Railroad, which was electrified from Harlowton, Montana, to Avery, Idaho, making it the first electrified track in the U.S and the longest electrified rail line in the world. This electric power helped locomotives climb over the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide.

In 2021 and 2022, NorthWestern Energy, now the owners of the 100-kilovolt Valley-Two Dot Line, rebuilt the historic power line. While we wanted to improve the reliabil ity of this line, we did not want to lose its rich history.

Beth Stimatz, NorthWestern Energy Environmental Compliance Specialist, worked with the U.S. Forest Service and Preserve Montana to develop inter pretive panels that were installed near the power line in the Little Belt Mountains near Monarch, Montana.

“They’re in a great location because the 100 kV line is directly across the highway so people can see what it looks like after the rebuild project,” Beth said. “It’s where the original line ran as well.”

The signs tell the history of the power line, explaining that the Valley-Two Dot line was one of the first to use the wooden H-Frame design.

Forest Service Archeologist Mark Bodily and Chere Jiusto, Executive Director of Preserve Montana, researched the history of the power line and compiled the information for the two signs.

The Valley-Two Dot power line was one of the first to use the wooden H-Frame design.

Forest Service Archeologist Mark Bodily installs an interpretive sign about the Valley-Two Dot Power Line.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 41
When we rebuilt a historic power line, we installed interpretive signs to commemorate the history of the century-old infrastructure.



Meandering streams deliver valuable functional and esthetic benefits to Montana’s landscapes, fisheries, wildlife and more. But streams are also an obstacle when it comes to moving agricultural equip-

Installing a culvert and a road for crossings is often not optimal for stream health or fish populations. NorthWestern Energy is providing material for more stream-friendly crossings and, at the same time, keeping that material from ending up in a landfill.

The 3-inch-wide, 12-inch-deep, 10-foot-long wooden boards used for flashboards on Rainbow Dam, located on the Missouri River near Great Falls, Montana, were replaced this fall. The flashboards, located on the dam’s upstream face in front of steel I-beams, are used to seal water in the dam’s reservoir and control the release of the water through and across the dam to create conditions for maximum energy generation.

Put in place in 2004, the boards are structurally sound, but after about two decades, water leaked between the boards and through the dam. A 100-cfs (cubic feet per second) water leak through the dam, about 750 gallons per second, equals almost a megawatt of power, enough energy for about 650 homes a year.

Replacing the flashboards improved the efficiency of the 112-year-old dam and repurposing the material, more than 700 boards, is beneficial to Montana’s streams, landowners who need to cross the streams and for the public resources of fish and

“There are situations when someone needs to cross a stream, such as moving a center pivot for irrigation or moving ag equipment from one side to another,” said NorthWestern Energy Biologist Grant Grisak. “A bridge is a good alternative to culvert crossings, and these boards work perfectly for that.”

Permits for structural stream crossings are reviewed by area conservation districts and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and personnel offer recommendations that are good for both the stream health and the land-

These repurposed flashboards provide those agencies the opportunity to also offer free material to landowners who have projects along the Madison and Missouri rivers. NorthWestern Energy will repurpose some of these materials for bridge crossings on stream rehabilitation projects, as well as for other projects.

NorthWestern Energy’s 11 dams in Montana provide our customers with a sustainable carbon-free energy resource and are the backbone of our generation fleet in the state.

“An important part of the stewardship of our hydro assets is reusing and repurposing materials whenever possible and this is a great example of our commitment,” said NorthWestern Energy Hydro Superintendent Jerry Gray.

holding back river water to creating bridges over streams, Rainbow Dam flashboards have a new use.

NorthWestern Energy and partners repair bridges destroyed by wildfire on important trout spawning tributary

The lightning-caused Harris Mountain fire in Montana burned about 11,000 acres in Cascade County and scorched almost all of the Sheep Creek drainage during the summer of 2021. The fire damaged eight bridges and destroyed a number of buildings.

Sheep Creek is an important spawning tributary for rainbow trout and brown trout from the Missouri River. Without usable bridges, vehicles had to ford the streams to cross, a practice that is harmful for stream health.

NorthWestern Energy, partner organizations and other stakeholders secured $200,000 in funding and replaced the bridges during the summer of 2022, eliminating the need to ford the North Fork and the South Fork of Sheep Creek at 10 sites.

NorthWestern Energy’s Missouri Fisheries Fund approved almost $149,000 for the project. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Missouri River Flyfishers and Montana Trout Unlimited provided funds, and landowners made financial and in-kind contributions.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks assisted with regulatory permitting.

A bridge on the South Fork that was unusable before the fire was also replaced during the project, reducing the number of vehicles fording the stream at that site.

Since the project was completed in September 2022, numerous trout have been observed in both streams.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 43


A Carousel for Missoula introduced solar power to Missoula’s favorite painted ponies by using funding received through the NorthWestern Energy Efficiency Plus (E+) Renewable Energy Program.

Imagine a carousel that is powered by sunshine. That’s what you’ll find at A Carousel for Missoula, thanks in part to funds from NorthWestern Energy.

A Carousel for Missoula recently partnered with NorthWestern Energy to install 32 360-watt solar panels on the building’s roof.

Whether you ride a merry-go-round once a year or every day, there’s something special about getting on a carousel and riding on painted ponies. It’s not hard to imagine your face lighting up in a smile as you fly around in circles in the summer sun. In short, carousels speak to the best parts of a child’s imagination.

A Carousel for Missoula applied in fall 2021 and received funding through the NorthWestern Energy Efficiency Plus (E+) Renewable Energy Program in February 2022 for this renewable generation project.

“I think it is important that we each do all we can to help slow down climate change; solar panels are such an easy way to do that,” said Theresa Cox, former Executive Director of A Carousel for Missoula, who retired in late 2021.

“The program has been around for many years, but we’ve never partnered with a carousel before, and that’s what makes this project unique,” said Shawn Fredrickson, NorthWestern Energy Demand Side Management Specialist. “We have funded many renewable energy projects for museums, schools, libraries and food banks, but this is the first carousel.”

NorthWestern Energy provided a $27,090 incentive to help fund 90% of the solar panel installation. The panels contribute to the power consumption of the ride, spinning 38 ponies and providing entertainment for families.

“Once selected, customers apply through our Interconnection

 Prairie Rose is one of 38 handcarved and painted ponies at A Carousel for Missoula.

Department before the installation can begin,” Shawn explained. “We want to ensure that the interconnection engineers can review the diagrams and make sure the project is compatible with our system.”

One of NorthWestern’s qualified installers, Big Sky Solar and Wind, installed the rooftop panels. A laptop inside shows how the panels produce electricity and how much the carousel needs to run, which satisfies the program’s educational component.

The carousel also replaced 22 14-watt fluorescent tube lights with LED tubes, and NorthWestern provided a rebate through the E+ Commercial Lighting program.

As part of a number of Efficiency Plus programs, NorthWestern Energy offers custom renewable energy incentives for nonprofits, schools, community centers, etc., through the E+ Renewable Energy Program. Proposals are accepted twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

The carousel at Caras Park is a beloved centerpiece of the park, where locals often gather with their families and friends, and a long-standing part of Missoula’s history and culture. NorthWestern is proud to partner with A Carousel for Missoula to provide a new and sustainable way to power Missoula’s favorite painted ponies.


Scan this QR code with your phone’s camera to take a virtual ride on the Carousel for Missoula.

About our E+ Renewable Energy Program

The E+ Renewable Energy Program provides custom incentives for projects that benefit organizations and communities and for nonprofit or government facilities. Projects must provide civic value, including education and visible representation of renewable energy technologies to a broad audience. A limited amount of electric Universal System Benefits (USB) funding is available. Proposals are accepted twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

Successful proposals are selected based upon ranking the five criteria listed below, through internal and external review and upon the limited amount of USB Renewable Energy funding available for the cycle.

• Nonprofit or government/public facility

• Geographic location – NorthWestern looks at where past projects have been funded and where there are geographic gaps or need for public purpose balance

• Participant match (at least 10%)

• Educational value – Detailed plan for providing education on the benefits of the project

• System maintenance – Detailed maintenance plan is required

Projects must be installed by a NorthWestern Renewable Energy Qualified Installer.

Projects must meet interconnection requirements at the time of installation. Project must be net metered.

The current interconnection agreement and list of qualified installers is available at

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 45
A Carousel for Missoula recently partnered with NorthWestern to install 32 360-watt solar panels on the building’s roof.

Phillip Pearson has always been drawn to maps. He’s also always enjoyed art.

Several years ago, Phillip made several hydrological maps of watershed basins in Montana. During the pandemic, he revisited those maps and started remaking them to look 3D.

Phillip figured out how to combine his love of maps and art and turn it into a business. He now sells his maps on Etsy, in a shop called Shaded Relief Maps. Phillip’s maps are truly works of art. They’re incredibly detailed and shaded to appear as if the relief is coming off the page. Phillip produces both vintage and modern maps. He’s currently working on a series of National Park maps.

“As someone who loves maps, I was really blown away by his work,” said Brandt Seitz, Innovation Engineer at NorthWestern Energy and one of Phillip’s co-workers. “I think the results are extraordinarily stunning and unique.”

Phillip will graduate in December with a degree in Geographic Information System and Planning from Montana State University. He joined NorthWestern Energy in 2022 as a GIS intern.

His work at NorthWestern Energy involves map making, but in a less artistic way. Phillip works with our engineers to put all our infrastructure into a mapping system

“That way if there’s an outage, we can use our maps to predict where it’s originating and fix it quicker,” Phillip explained.

While the mapping he does at NorthWestern is very different than the maps Phillip makes outside of work, he enjoys both kinds of mapping.

“I’m just trying to get as much experience as I can in the field,” he said.

At NorthWestern, he enjoys working with large amounts of data and applying it for practical purposes.

“What I do with my personal business is art and making things pretty,” he said.

Before Phillip started making maps, he was an avid photographer.

“I’ve always been interested in nature and photographing nature,” he said. “That was how I expressed my love for the outdoors.”

While Phillip still enjoys photography, mapping has given him another way experience his love of nature.

“Mapping is a great way to capture the same thing I was capturing with photography,” he said. “I’ve always been obsessed with landscapes and trying to capture the natural beauty of an area.”


Find Phillip’s maps on Etsy at Follow him on Instagram @ShadedReliefMaps

NorthWestern Energy GIS Intern

Phillip Pearson uses his mapping skills to make works of art.

Prior to 2018, Jordan Tollefson and Andy Welch had next-to-no experience with curling.

“I had stepped on the ice a few times in college,” said Jordan, who works as NorthWestern Energy’s Water Quality Specialist in Helena, Montana. “I knew the sliders were really slippery, and that’s about it. I had no idea what I was doing.”

Andy, NorthWestern’s Manager of Hydro License Compliance, had never curled before, but both Jordan and Andy were glued to their TVs watching curling during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“That was the first Olympics it was really aired much,” Andy said.

After watching the sport on TV, Andy and Jordan were itching to try it for themselves. At the time, Helena, where they both live, didn’t have a curling club. The closest place they could play was about 70 miles south in Butte, Montana. In fall 2018, they signed up for a learn-to-curl event in Butte, and they were immediately hooked.

Andy and Jordan joined a curling team with friends and made weekly trips to Butte through the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 curling seasons. Driv-

ing back and forth, they started talking about the possibility of launching a curling club in Helena.

In fall 2020, Jordan, Andy and several of their curling teammates officially began the Last Chance Curling Club. Jordan was elected as the club’s board chair, and Andy serves as vice chair.

The biggest hurdle for any new curling group is typically the stones. Each stone is made from solid granite, weighing in at about 45 pounds. A game of curling requires a set of 16 stones, and a set costs about $6,000.

“It’s a huge investment,” Andy said.

Last Chance Curling was able to purchase four sets of stones, thanks to donations, lease-to-own agreements and all the board members putting up their own cash.

The second major hurdle was getting ice time. The Helena Ice Arena is typically booked solid from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day during hockey season. However, the rink was willing to work with the newly formed Last Chance Curling Club and cut them a deal on ice fees to help get them on their feet.

Two NorthWestern Energy employees created a curling league in Helena, Montana.

Our employee volunteer program

In winter 2021, Last Chance Curling hosted a learn-to-curl event as a way to recruit players for a curling league.

Last Chance Curling Club started its first league for the 2020/2021 season. The only available ice time was 10 p.m. to midnight, but they filled the league with eight teams. The next year, the club was able to purchase a fifth set of stones and expand the league to 10 teams, two nights a week.

Now, two years since launching Last Chance Curling Club, Jordan estimates there are about 100 regular curlers in Helena. Through all the learn-to-curls, leagues and other events, Last Chance Curling Club has allowed 300 to 400 Helenans to try the sport.

“We’ve just gotten such a great response from the Helena community,” Jordan said. “When we took the leap to start a club, there were a lot of people who jumped with us.”

During the first league, about 95% of the players had never curled before.

“Now our leagues are pretty darn competitive,” Andy said. “It’s been absolutely amazing to see people, one, just loving it, and, two, see their skill level increase exponentially.”

Unlike other sports – hockey, for example – you can become a very skilled curler, even if you come to it later in life.

“With curling, all it takes is a year or two, and you’re going to be relatively competitive,” Jordan said.

Andy’s favorite thing about curling is that no two games are ever the same.

“The strategy changes for every game and every shot,” Andy said. “I don’t think there are many games that are as dynamic as curling.”

An added bonus has been the community Andy and Jordan have met through curling. “The spirit of curling” is something that’s commonly talked about on the ice. There are no referees, so players are expected to be fair and honest. That spirit also extends to supporting those who are just learning the sport and to supporting new clubs. The Missoula and Butte curling clubs were both instrumental in helping Last Chance Curling Club. Clubs from as far away as Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, have supported the Helena club.

“The spirit of curling goes way beyond the ice,” Jordan said.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 49
 Jordan Tollefson, NorthWestern Energy’s Water Quality Specialist and Chair of the Last Chance Curling Club, plays in a bonspiel at the Helena Ice Arena.  NorthWestern Energy’s Jordan Tollefson, second from right, and Andy Welch, right, pose with their curling team, The Sultans of Sweep. 
In 2021, we awarded $54,900 to 103 nonprofits through the
Program and Team
Energy has supported the Last
Club through our
program. We offer two different employee volunteer grant programs.
Energy will donate up to $400 to each nonprofit organization our employees serve. With our Team Grants, we give $100 for each employee who volunteers at an event.
NorthWestern Manager of Hydro License Compliance and Last Chance Curling Club Vice Chair Andy Welch’s favorite thing about curling is that no two games are ever the same.
Employee Volunteer
Grant Program. NorthWestern
Chance Curling
employee volunteer
more about Last Chance Curling Club at


Restoring Beaver Creek has been no small undertaking.

“It takes a lot of partners to implement a project of this scale,” said Alli Russell, Fisheries Biologist for the U.S. Forest Service.

Beaver Creek is an important tributary to the Missouri River for rainbow trout spawning.

“It’s the most important tributary in the Holter Reservoir,” said Andy Welch, NorthWestern Energy’s Manager of Hydro License Compliance.

Phase 1 of the

project is seen from the air.

However, since the late 1800s, Beaver Creek has been heavily impacted by human use. Past land use practices removed the riparian vegetation to maximize hay ground, which caused the bank to become unstable and allowed the creek to make a deep cut into the earth. The Forest Service further exacerbated the issue by installing riprap in response to the 1975 floods to stabilize the banks and prevent further bank erosion.

Because the channel is so deep and the bank is so steep, the creek doesn’t have access to the floodplain.

“Improving the floodplain allows the stream to function properly during high flows,” said Grant Grisak, Biologist at NorthWestern.

Fixing a century of mismanagement isn’t easy.

The restoration project aims to move Beaver Creek back to its historic and natural channel. Instead of a deep, and artificially straight waterway, it will once again snake across the landscape, making large S-curves, flowing down a gentle grade and recharging the riparian areas around it.

“It’s been a monumental undertaking,” Alli said.

NorthWestern Energy is funding a portion of the project through our Missouri-Madison Fish and Wildlife Protection, Mitigation and Enhancement Programs.

In 2020, we funded Phase 1 of the Beaver Creek restoration. Phase 2 is now underway, expected to be complete in early winter, and NorthWestern is again a partner on the project. The Lewis and Clark Conservation District, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish and Wildlife Future Fisheries Improvement Program and the Pat Barnes Chapter of Trout Unlimited have

Beaver Creek stream restoration

all joined with the Forest Service to help restore Beaver Creek. River Design Group, based in Whitefish, Montana, did the engineering on the project.

Phase 2 involves about 3,700 feet of stream channel restoration and about 7.2 acres of floodplain development.

Once the restoration project is complete, Beaver Creek will look much like it did before it was manipulated by human use. That includes being home to a healthy beaver population.

“Beaver Creek, aptly named, has historically supported healthy beaver populations but has also been impacted by trapping practices,” Alli said.

Beavers play an important role in the ecosystem. Their dams create slow side channels, which are important fish habitat. That water also stimulates healthy vegetation growth by raising the water table, which provides habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. This project will hopefully jump start the recovery process.

However, restoration doesn’t happen overnight.

After Phase 1, flows in Beaver Creek diminished substantially. It took a while for the new channel to be fully wetted and seal up.

“We suspect Phase 2 will go through that same process,” Grant said.

It’s hard for the public to see that happen, Alli said.

“There’s a lot of public attachment to Beaver Creek,” she said.

However, the changes will improve fishing spawning and wildlife habitat in the future.

“The construction is dirty and damaging, but the long-term benefit outweighs the initial disturbance,” Andy said.

Protecting and preserving fisheries

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, license that allows us to operate nine dams on the Missouri and Madison rivers in Montana includes many requirements for the protection, mitigation and enhancement of fisheries, wildlife and habitat resources along the river corridor.

In order to monitor and offset effects from our hydroelectric projects, we administer Protection, Mitigation and Enhancement Programs (PM&E) in cooperation with state and federal resource agencies.

In 2022, NorthWestern Energy provided $1.51 million to support 43 fisheries, wildlife and habitat improvement projects along the 550-mile Madison-Missouri River corridor from Yellowstone National Park to Fort Peck Reservoir. This funding leveraged another $2.2 million in matching funds going toward resource stewardship projects.

To date, nearly $64 million has been spent toward fisheries and wildlife projects under the Missouri-Madison PM&E Program.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 51
NorthWestern Energy partners with the U.S. Forest Service and others to restore important trout spawning tributary after a century of mismanagement.
 The Forest Service has hosted volunteer events to help gather the 30,000 willow clippings that will be used in Phase 2.


How to spend time outside no matter what the weather

Hygge gets all of the attention when many people think of winter. This Norwegian practice, pronounced hoo-ga, is all about coziness. Imagine curling up with a blanket by the fire with a hot cup of cocoa, a good book and plenty of time. While this sounds lovely — maybe for a day when the weather is absolutely atrocious — memories are made outdoors. This is where friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv), the Scandinavian concept of “fresh air life” regardless of the weather, makes sense to me as the way to truly make the most of winter.

While the temptation to hibernate is strong when it’s cold and dark at this time of the year, stepping into nature is beneficial for the entire family, especially kids. Instead of sitting out the yucky days, bundle up and go outside, even if it’s for a short walk around the block. There might be initial protesting, but it decreases as interest grows in outdoor activities. Plus, each outing creates habits that potentially last throughout kids’ lives. And we all are healthier, both mentally and physically, the more time we spend outdoors.

Comfort and Safety

Another tidbit of Scandinavian wisdom says, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” This statement holds a lot of truth. With appropriate clothing, it’s possible to be comfortable even in extreme conditions.

The key is layering. This allows you to better regulate your comfort level and keep you warm during times of low activity, while being able to peel off clothing to minimize sweating.

The first layer typically consists of lightweight wool or synthetic materials on the torso and legs. While it might be tempting to throw on a T-shirt, remember the adage “cotton kills” because when cotton becomes wet, such as from sweating, it does not wick the moisture away from the body

and you chill. The middle layer, which might be a fleece, wool or down option, retains heat. And the outer layer adds more warmth while protecting you from the elements.

Of course, not to sound like your grandmother, but wear your hat and gloves. A considerable amount of heat is lost through your head, plus if you are becoming too warm, the quickest way to cool down is to remove your hat. And it is absolutely no fun when your hands are so cold that you can’t feel your fingers. When the outside temperatures really plummet, or when the wind is a factor, consider wearing a neoprene face mask to minimize how much skin is exposed. Even when you’re dressed appropriately, remember Mother Nature does not fool around. Always be prepared with additional ways to stay safe while traveling in inclement weather. Pack the essentials, along with extra warm weather gear, tell someone your plans and keep an eye on the weather. Depending on the terrain, it’s also important to understand avalanche danger and plan accordingly. With this said, the options to wring every moment from these frozen, magical months are almost limitless.


One of the least technical winter sports is snowshoeing because the movement is basically walking with larger steps. This doesn’t mean it is easy. In reality, it’s an excellent workout, but it is possible for the young to more mature recreationists. If you don’t own snowshoes, you can often rent them at sporting goods stores, or in some regions, the local Forest Service office loans them for free. Snowshoe sizes are calculated by your weight, including gear. Poles are handy not only for balance but to improve your overall workout.

Cross-country skiing

Modern day Nordic skiing is not the wooden slabs strapped to the boots of the hardy souls who ventured into the winter wonderland. The beauty of cross-country skiing is it’s accessible to practically anyone.


Even toddlers glide along groomed trails easily, and more advanced skiers increase the workout and speed with the graceful skating technique. And for those who don’t wish to hike up a mountain, yet yearn to explore off-trail, backcountry skis are the ticket.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding

If flying through powder is your thing, downhill skiing and snowboarding fit the bill. For those new to the sports, most ski hills offer a rental program, and a fair amount of them provide lessons. Definitely pay attention to your layering when it comes to these downhill sports because it’s easy to heat up when you’re skiing hard on the way down, yet you can cool off rapidly on a chairlift ride back to the top.

Sled riding

This is one of those arenas that kids naturally gravitate to, but don’t let them have all of the fun. The trick to a successful sledding day is matching the sled to the conditions. Toboggans, whether the classic wooden design with the front curl or the longer plastic sleds, work best on packed snow. Saucers are for those who thrill at completely losing control and whirling down the hill at breakneck speeds, usually spinning or backward. They work best for flexible souls who can take a few hard bounces. Runner sleds, such as the Flexible Flyer, can be fast on a hard-packed run, but they are popular primarily because you can fit a couple of people, including a parent and child, and have some semblance of steering. Tubes are also excellent on well-worn hills, but are equally fun bouncing through powder. Plus, they offer some cushion for your back end if you catch some air.

Ice skating and wild skating

Nothing says winter like ice skating. With outdoor rinks taking advantage of the cold weather, it’s possible to glide along the smooth ice while taking a break to warm up whenever necessary. Skating on “wild ice,” which is simply ice that forms on ungroomed lakes, including backcountry lakes in some areas, is gaining popularity. There’s something magical about looking through inches of perfectly clear ice to see the bottom.

Keep in mind that wild ice is potentially dangerous because it often freezes at uneven levels. While one section might be a solid 8 inches, shortly beyond it could be a mere inch depending on water movement underneath. Generally, 4 inches of new, hard ice is strong enough to support a per-

son, but remember that all ice is not equal. A foot of old ice after warm weather might not do the same. To be safe, enjoy the thrill of wild ice with a friend, bring safety gear and keep your eyes open.

Ice fishing

There’s nothing like a loud “pong” followed by a crack screaming across the ice that improves your spiritual life, yet ice fishing is one of the most popular winter sports in northern regions. As soon as a few inches of ice forms on popular lakes, hard water anglers sled out their augers, ice houses and gear to fish for everything from pike to kokanee salmon. Many make a day, and some spend the night, bringing together friends for a barbecue and general good time while waiting for the fish to bite.

Fat biking

There’s no need to put away your bicycle for the winter when you have a fat bike to ride. With 4- to 5-inch-wide that are generally kept at a lower air pressure, snow-covered trails are instant playgrounds. Burning approximately 1,500 calories an hour in powdery snow, this type of cycling is a terrific workout, along with a way to shake up your routine during the snowy months.

Take a walk

The easiest wintertime activity is simply putting one foot in front of the other. Walking in the winter is a completely different experience that seems to change daily. Even when you don’t have time to go on an epic adventure, make a point to head out for a stroll. One pro tip is to invest in a pair of micro-spikes to wear on icy walkways or trails. These pull on easily over any boot and reduce your chances of taking a fall and ruining a perfectly good outing.

When you consider how much there is to do outside, it almost seems as if there isn’t enough winter to fit all of it into a few months. There certainly isn’t time to spend too many days cuddled up by the fire. Although, after a day in the woods or on the trails, a well-deserved mug of hot cocoa tastes extra delicious.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 53
Amy Grisak is an avid gardener and writer. Her writing appears in everything from the Farmers’ Almanac to Popular Mechanics, along with her books, “Nature Guide to Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks” and “Found Photos of Yellowstone.” Amy lives in Great Falls, Montana, with her two sons and her husband, Grant, who is a biologist with NorthWestern Energy.


I’ve been talking and ruminating a lot about Montana’s hydroelectric dams in recent weeks. When those conversations involve someone other than myself, they sometimes include a comment such as “wouldn’t it be great if they would tear those creaky old dams out and let that river run naturally again?”

My mostly polite response often involves something along the lines of “yeah, wild, free-flowing rivers are very cool. But maybe we should think more broadly about this idea before placing sticks of dynamite or turning the keys on a bulldozer.”

Montana is blessed with its share of rivers, most of which enrich our lives in one way or another. Some like the Blackfoot, my personal favorite, are simply gorgeous. Other folks will add the Yellowstone, Madison, Gall-

atin, Missouri, Bitterroot, Clark Fork, Flathead and Kootenai. Even the humble Milk River, which flows across much of northern Montana, has moments of aesthetic virtue.

Should we have dams on all these rivers? Absolutely not. Free-flowing rivers like the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Yellowstone are part of what make Montana a special place.

There is little argument that dam construction has environmental consequences, notably on fish and wildlife, and in the case of some of the large federally owned dams like Fort Peck, Libby, Canyon Ferry or Clark Canyon near Dillon, people, farms and ranches and small communities have been displaced to make room for large reservoirs.

What did we get in return? Abundant

lies. Historically, Montana dams fueled mines, smelters, lumber mills, flour mills, grain elevators, railroads and streetlights, electric trolleys, along with irrigation and flood control. Today, they support all sorts of commercial activity and bring light and heat to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

While Montana’s hydroelectric dams come with clear trade-offs, they have also helped shape our state. Each of these historic and cultural assets carries a story worth remembering.

The dams and related features have become part of life in Montana in entertaining ways.

The next time you make the drive


Butch Larcombe, a former newspaper reporter, editor, magazine editor and one-time employee of NorthWestern Energy, is the author of “Golden Kilowatts: Water Power and the Early Growth of Montana.” Copies of his book have been donated by NorthWestern Energy to a number of Montana historical societies and museums. All proceeds from the book sales are retained by the nonprofit organizations.

Golden Kilowatts is currently available at: Montana Historical Society, 225 N. Roberts, Helena, MT, (406) 444-2694

The History Museum, Cascade County Historical Society, 422 2nd St. S., Great Falls, MT, (406) 452-3462

electricity, Madison Dam helps maintain a healthy fishery in the Madison River. Periodic water releases during hot summer months keep water from reaching temperatures that are lethal to fish.

In addition to generating carbon-free

fall, make note of how many anglers you spot floating the river or standing waist-deep in its waters. What is the draw? A river with plentiful fish kept healthy by cool water released through Holter Dam.

Same goes for another of Montana’s legendary trout streams, the Madison River near Ennis. Water from the reservoir formed by Hebgen Dam cools the river in hot summer months, fortifying the fishing and the local economy. Similarly, below Madison Dam, periodic water releases during hot summer months keep water from reaching temperatures that are lethal to fish.

What about boating on Holter Lake or through the Gates of the Mountains or upstream on the big water of Canyon Ferry

ample water above Hauser Dam?

I suspect the answer to all these questions is a resounding “no.”

The truth is the recreational benefits of most Montana dams boost the quality of life for many of us. That fact is worth considering in any well-informed discussion of the value of our state’s historic dams.

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, 17 W. Quartz, Butte, MT (406) 782-3280

All proceeds benefit historical societies statewide. Scan this QR code to purchase online.

Butch Larcombe worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in Montana for nearly 30 years and was also the editor and general manager of Montana Magazine. He worked in corporate communications at NorthWestern Energy for six years before retiring in 2018. Originally from Malta, Montana, he now lives near Bigfork.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 55

ENNIS, Montana

ranges – the Gravelly Range, the Madison Mountains and the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Located on the Madison River in southwest Montana, Ennis is well known as a fly-fishing town. Trout are said to outnumber residents 11 to one. However, if fishing isn’t your thing, this quaint town, population 970, offers something for everyone.

Ennis is in a beautiful location, nestled between three mountain

Ennis was founded in the 1860s at the height of the gold rush. Before that, the area served as abundant spring hunting grounds for the Shoshone, Flathead and Bannack tribes. William Ennis homesteaded on the banks of the Madison River, and the site soon became the town of Ennis. Ennis was initially part of the Idaho Territory before the area was designated as the Montana Territory. The area attracted farmers and ranchers, and eventually three major stage lines passed through Ennis.

NorthWestern Energy’s Madison Dam is located about 10 miles north of Ennis. The 13-megawatt facility was built in 1906 and upgraded in the past few years. We have also helped fund extensive rehabilitation


work on O’Dell Creek, which flows into the Madison River just north of Ennis.

Sip on spirits of the American West: Distillery aims to create products “that embody the independent spirit and authenticity of the Ameri can West while supporting its local economy and residents.” Willie’s offers vodka, bourbon, whis key and more, with unique Montana specialties including Huckleberry Sweet Cream Liqueur and Wild Montana Chokecherry Liqueur. This distillery mills, mashes, ferments and distills all its products onsite using a copper pot still specially made in Germany. 312 Main St.

Enjoy a sugar rush: Located across the street from the high school, Ennis Sugar High feels like somewhere you’d want to hang out with your friends after class. Sugar High offers soft-serve ice cream, served just about any way you can imagine – milkshake, cup, cone, smoothie or sundae with unique toppings like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. They also offer hand-pat tied burgers and fresh-cut fries. Sugar High closes for the winter and is typically open April through Labor Day. 170 Main St.

Take a hike: Bear Trap Canyon, just outside Ennis, is a great place for a hike. A hiking trail starts at the Madison Dam powerhouse and runs 7.5 miles through a steep canyon along the Madison River. The trail takes you into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area. You can hike as far as you like, or set up a car shuttle so you can hike the entire canyon and finish near Norris. Bear Trap Canyon is also a popular spot for whitewater rafting. It boasts some of the best whitewater rapids in the state. Some outfitters offer rafting trips through the canyon. It’s also a prime fishing spot.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 57

Visit Earthquake Lake: On Aug. 17, 1959, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake caused a massive landslide of about 80 million tons of rock. The slide blocked the flow of the Madison River and formed Earthquake Lake, commonly called Quake Lake. At the time, it was the second-largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century. Today, a visit to Quake Lake is still an eerie sight, with dead trees standing in the middle of the lake offering a reminder of how recently this was dry land. From the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center, you can see the mountain that fell and how the lake was formed. You’ll also learn about plate tectonics and see a working seismograph. The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is located 44 miles South of Ennis on U.S. Highway 287. (406) 682-7620

Enjoy a quick bite: Nacho Mama’s is a great spot for a quick lunch or dinner. The fast casual restaurant offers tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more. You can customize your order however you like with choices of meat, beans and toppings. Moore Creek runs just behind the eatery, and there’s a nice outdoor creek-side patio where you can enjoy your meal. 111 W. Main St.

Enjoy a local brew: Burnt Tree Brewing offers a selection of local beer, as well as a roof-top deck and an outdoor patio. The outdoor area is surrounded by old skis and decorated with vintage bicycles. For food, Burnt Tree offers pizza, pad thai and curry. 311 E. Main St. Instagram @burnttreebrewing.

Shop for gear: Shedhorn Sports calls itself “southwest Montana’s premier sporting goods retailer,” and the store lives up to it. Shedhorn is known for its wide selection of firearms, but also sells fishing equipment, camping gear, clothes, shoes, knives and more. The store originally opened in 1979 inside Gambles Hardware Store. Today, it’s located in downtown Ennis and has a knowledgeable staff ready to help customers find the gear they need to enjoy the outdoors. 103 W. Main St.

Browse the shops along Main Street: You’ll find a little bit of everything on Ennis’ Main Street. Stop in Plain Janes on Main, 100 Main St., for unique Montana gifts. Benjies, 104 Main St., has a wide selection of cards and jewelry. Shop for clothes in the Ennis Trading Post, 113 Main St., and find books and unique gifts at My Home In Montana, 123 Main St. The Mercantile, 121 Main St., exclusively carries products from Montana artists. You’ll also find several fishing and fly shops.

Go fishing: The Madison River boasts some of the best fly fishing in Montana. The river is home to a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout. And even if the fish aren’t biting, you’ll get to enjoy some incredible scenery. Ennis has numerous fishing guides, and anglers will find many fishing access sites close to town.




1 pie crust, homemade or store-bought

15 ounces pumpkin puree

1 cup packed light brown sugar

3 large eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon


½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

½ cup salted caramel sauce (use recipe to the right or store-bought)

Salted Caramel Sauce

Make this sauce in advance to add to your pie filling.


2 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, see note



On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Gently fit the dough into the pan. Trim the dough to ½-inch over the pie pan and crimp the rim. Place the crust in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375°


Line the pie dough with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then fill with pie weights, dried beans or dry rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment paper or foil.



In a large bowl whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla extract.

Add in the heavy cream and salted caramel sauce. Whisk until smooth.

Pour the pumpkin filling into the partially baked pie crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the center is almost set, but still a little jiggly. Don’t overbake.



Cut the pie into slices and serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

When the pie is done baking, turn off the oven and let the pie cool in the oven with the oven door slightly open to prevent cracking. Remove from oven when the pie is cooled to room temperature. 7


First, make sure you have all of the ingredients ready. Once you start the caramel sauce, you have to pay close attention so you don't burn it.


Heat the sugar over medium-high heat in the bottom of a heavy 2-to-3-quart saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump up, but keep whisking. When the sugar is completely melted, stop whisking. Swirl the pan to move the sugar around.


Cook the sugar until it reaches a dark amber color, then carefully add the butter. Stir until butter is melted.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream while whisking. Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth. Whisk in sea salt flakes.



Let the caramel sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Pour the caramel into a large jar and cool to room temperature. Put the salted caramel sauce in the refrigerator. Store the salted caramel sauce in the refrigerator for about a month.


Make sure you use flaky sea salt; don't use regular salt. Start with 1 teaspoon and add more to taste - it should be a little salty.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 59
60 | BRIGHT MAGAZINE Vol. 2 Wind - Contracted Hydro Owned 21.1% 33.1% 59% Carbon-free Wind - Owned 2.4% Contracted CELP & YELP 12.3% Natural Gas/Other Contracted 1.9% Natural Gas/ Other Owned 4.2% Coal Owned 23.0% Solar Contracted 0.5% Hydro Contracted 1.5% Montana NorthWestern Energy 2021 Electric Generation Portfolio Based on MWH of owned and long-term contracted resources Wind - Owned Wind - Contracted 20.4% 23.4% 44% Carbon-free Natural Gas/Other Owned 4.0% Coal Owned 52.2% South Dakota NorthWestern Energy 2021 Electric Generation Portfolio Based on MWH of owned and long-term contracted resources Wind - Contracted Hydro Owned 21.5% 27.1% 56% Carbon-free Wind - Owned 5.7% Contracted CELP & YELP 10.1% Natural Gas/Other Contracted 1.6% Natural Gas/Other Owned 4.1% Coal Owned 28.3% Solar Contracted 0.4% Hydro Contracted 1.2% NorthWestern Energy 2021 Electric Generation Portfolio Based on MWH of owned and long-term contracted resources \ BY THE NUMBERS Net Zero by 2050 2021-2022 2023-2035 2036-2043 2044-2050 Additions 2 Expirations 3 Various Retirements4 397 MW Various Retirements4 766 MW Neal 56 MW Coyote 43 MW Colstrip 222 MW Big Stone 111 MW Various Retirements4 80 MW 60% Carbon-Free Generation 80% Carbon-Free Generation Net Zero Various Resources (IRP/RFP) 230 MW Various Resources (IRP/RFP) 525 MW Various Resources1 (IRP/RFP) 1,205 MW Yellowstone County (2020 RFP) 175 MW (160 MW Capacity Contribution) 1. Includes resources from the 2020 Montana RFP (Beartooth battery and PowerEx contract) Resources from the RFP are currently under construction and total 325 MW 2. Additions: owned resources = 175 MW/contracted resources = 564 MW/unknown resources = 1,396 MW 3. Expirations: owned resources = 432 MW/contracted resources 1,243 MW 4. These include long-term contracted resources, many of which are carbon-free, whose contract ends during the timeline presented above. Contracts may be renowned if they are cost effective and most strategic goals and/or portfolio need at the time of contract expiration

Our Thompson Falls Fish Ladder

Since 2011, 17 different species of fish and nearly 39,000 fish have been captured and passed upstream of our Thompson Falls Dam via the Thompson Falls Fish Ladder. This important partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks opens up more than 274 miles of upstream habitat to bull trout and other species. The chart below shows the number and species of fish that used the fish ladder in 2022.

Scan this QR code with your phone’s camera to watch a video about the Thompson Falls Fish Ladder.

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 61 Largescale Sucker 631 Northern Pikeminnow 35 Smallmouth Bass 953 Rainbow Trout 191 Brown Trout 195 Mountain Whitefish 6 Westslope Cutthroat Trout 9 Rainbow x Westslope Cutthroat Trout Hybrid 3 Bulltrout 2 Lake Trout 1


Do you recognize the location of any of these photos? Send us your guesses to be placed in the drawing for a prize. Guesses should be specific, such as naming a feature in the photo or giving the exact location.

Send your guesses to Be sure to include your name, mailing address and phone number so we can contact you if you’re a winner.



Answers from the Community issue

Montana: Several readers recognized the photo of the Mystic Powerhouse, part of our Mystic Plant near Fishtail. Of the correct answers, we drew Ken S. of Butte, Montana. Ken, who retired from NorthWestern writes, “I rode that rail car many times when I installed the Supervisory at the dam’s head gate.”

South Dakota: We received only one correct answer identifying the photo of downtown Aberdeen. Our winner is Rachel K. of Aberdeen.

Nebraska: Rachel K. is also the only reader to recognize the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island. Nice work, Rachel!

BRIGHT MAGAZINE Environment Edition | 63
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