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Potential lessee drops plans for original powerhouse at Rainbow Dam

Apr 10, 2020

Butte, Mont. – April 10, 2020 – NorthWestern Energy received notice that Susteen Inc. will not lease the original powerhouse at Rainbow Dam for a databank center.

NorthWestern Energy and PPL Montana worked for almost a decade, along with the Cascade County Historical Preservation Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee, to look for alternative uses for the original powerhouse.

“This remarkable effort by all involved to diligently explore potential uses and especially this possibility with Susteen was truly impressive,” said NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental and Lands Permitting and Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan. “Unfortunately, the plan will not move forward.”

Construction on the 80-foot-wide and 326-foot-long original Rainbow Powerhouse began in 1909 and was completed in 1910, along with the dam and the power line. Electricity was first transmitted to Butte in 1910. A new, more efficient powerhouse was commissioned at Rainbow Dam in 2013. 

NorthWestern Energy bought Rainbow hydro facility in 2014 from PPL Montana and committed to continue working with the Cascade County Historical Preservation Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee to look for alternative uses for the original powerhouse.

NorthWestern Energy provided $50,000 for a feasibility study for alternative uses for the original powerhouse.

“Cascade County appreciates NorthWestern Energy’s willingness to pursue a potential repurposing for this historic property,” said Cascade County Commissioner Jane Weber. “Projects like this help grow our economy. We are saddened to learn that Susteen has chosen to withdraw their plans for the databank center after all the effort made by the community, the county and NorthWestern Energy.”

“The group of local volunteers that evolved to promote preservation of the original Rainbow Powerhouse worked diligently for nearly 10 years to find a suitable reuse,” said Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee President Peter Jennings. “With NorthWestern Energy's support and cooperation, we came close and are very disappointed that Susteen chose not to pursue the project in the end. It's a painful loss.” 

With the news that Susteen would not be leasing the building, NorthWestern Energy notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the company intends to proceed with a plan to raze the original Rainbow Powerhouse.

NorthWestern Energy will be working with the Cascade County Historical Preservation Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee and others to find ways to use elements of the powerhouse for a historical interpretive display in Cascade County.

“Every possibility to repurpose the facility has been explored,” Sullivan said. “The challenges, which include safety and security restrictions because of the facility’s remoteness and location on the Missouri River and being onsite with an active hydro operation, limited the type of project that could potentially use the building.”

Demolition of the facility is expected to begin this fall.

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About NorthWestern Energy (NYSE: NWE)

NorthWestern provides electricity and / or natural gas to approximately 734,800 customers in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. We have generated and distributed electricity in South Dakota and distributed natural gas in South Dakota and Nebraska since 1923 and have generated and distributed electricity and distributed natural gas in Montana since 2002. More information on NorthWestern is available on the company’s website at www.northwesternenergy.com.


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