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NorthWestern nears final decision on substation site, design

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By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – After nearly a year of dialogue between NorthWestern Energy and Big Sky residents, the utility company plans to present a decision to Big Sky residents on the site and design of the new electrical substation by late July.

The site options have been narrowed down to two, Rainham and Midway, and three designs: traditional, similar to existing Big Sky substations; a middle-of-the-road low-profile option; and an expensive gas-insulated option.

The Midway site option lies just south of Lone Mountain Trail near the Sleeping Bear subdivision, and the Rainham site is off Ridgeback Road north of Lone Mountain Trail. Homeowners worried the substation would be an eyesore, and adversely affect property values.

With a growth rate of 8 percent, eight times the statewide average, Big Sky’s energy demand is expected to double in the next 10 years according to NorthWestern. A third substation would connect the Lone Mountain and Meadow Village substations, preempting future electrical needs and safeguarding against outages.

A public meeting on June 20, at the Big Sky Water and Sewer District office, facilitated by Eric Austin with the Burton K. Wheeler Center for Public Policy, wrapped up formal discussion between the company and community, which allowed both parties to better understand the other’s concerns and challenges.

Barring any unforeseen hurdles, NorthWestern’s vice president of transmission, Mike Cashell, said they hope to publicly announce their final decision on the substation location and design in mid-to-late July.

“I’d like to have the conditional use permit and the zoning all done, officially, no later than the end of August,” he said.

Cashell provided a rough timeline for the project, saying he expected construction of the pad to begin in 2019, and that full completion of the station could be as far out as 2020.

Austin will be taking further recommendations and suggestions via email through June 30. The comments will be forwarded to NorthWestern before the company finalizes its decision.

“We’ve committed to try to be as transparent, and extensive and exhaustive, as we can be in communicating,” Austin said.

Visit for more information. To send recommendations and suggestions, email Eric Austin at before end-of-day June 30.

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