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Company proposes installing data center in Old Rainbow Powerhouse

Posted at 12:42 PM, Jul 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 11:27:47-04

GREAT FALLS – A California company is proposing to NorthWestern Energy that a block chain model data center be installed in the Old Rainbow Powerhouse.

Susteen, Inc. of Irvine, California submitted a proposal to NorthWestern Energy (NWE) on May 31 to lease the Old Rainbow Powerhouse.

NWE plans to decide this week if it will accept Susteen’s proposal as the energy company had previously considered demolishing the decommissioned, historic building, according to the Great Falls-Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission.

“This facility is a great opportunity for our project. It is a sound building with plenty of room in a secure location near a large power source – all critical requirements of our business,” Tom Sanders, Chief Technology Officer for Susteen, said. “We are very pleased with the economic win-win this sets up for our investment, NorthWestern Energy’s need to determine the building’s future, and local economic development.”

Susteen is a technology company established in 1992 specializing in digital forensics, providing hardware and software products to international law enforcement and government agencies, according to a press release.

Equipment for its new digital currency division would occupy the Old Rainbow Powerhouse. Susteen views the powerhouse’s structural soundness, size, and secure location, as ideal for its needs.

“It’s hard to overstate the value of this to our local economy. The amazing serendipity is that this project preserves an important historic building and landmark, increases our tax base and brings new jobs to our community at the same time,” Cascade County Commissioner Jane Weber stated.

NWE has worked with a committee of the City-County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission exploring the powerhouse’s reuse since 2011. At that committee’s urging, NWE funded a $50,000 feasibility study on rehabilitating the building for reuse in 2018.

The Rainbow Powerhouse, four miles downstream of Great Falls, is one of NWE’s five historic, Missouri River hydro-power facilities near Great Falls.

For 103 years, Rainbow produced 35 megawatts and was the first facility of its kind to transmit electricity to distant markets including mining and smelting operations in Butte and Anaconda, 100 miles away, according to a press release.

“These hydro facilities didn’t just grow Great Falls, they transformed industrial development in Montana and reflect Montana’s ambitions in its industrial heyday. Susteen’s proposal offers us the chance to recapture that economic momentum in our high-tech era,” Ellen Sievert, committee member and former City-County Historic Preservation Officer, said.

NWE can demolish the powerhouse under its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and has completed environmental reviews to do so. FERC has offered to consider reuse proposals within its July 30 deadline.

Peter Jennings, a committee member, stated the primary goal of preserving the powerhouse ultimately led to this opportunity.

“The NorthWestern Energy and Susteen collaboration is both innovative and pragmatic; a great example of historic preservation leveraging the new technology and services economy of the internet era,” he said.

If you would like more information on this topic, please call:

  • Peter Jennings, Vice-Chair of the City-County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, 406-868-3574
  • Jane Weber, Cascade County Commissioner, 406-454-6810
  • Ellen Sievert, Retired Great Falls-Cascade County Preservation Officer and member of the City-County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, 406-868-4985
  • Pete Brown, Deputy Historic Preservation Office, 406-444-7718