NewsGreat Falls News


Rainbow Dam powerhouse plan falls through

Demolition slated for Autumn
Rainbow Dam powerhouse facility
Posted at 8:46 AM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 19:51:57-04

GREAT FALLS — NorthWestern Energy said in a news release on Friday that that Susteen Inc. will not lease the powerhouse at Rainbow Dam for use as a databank center.

Last year, Susteen submitted a proposal to NorthWestern Energy to lease the facility. Susteen is a technology company specializing in digital forensics, providing hardware and software products to law enforcement and government agencies. Equipment for its new digital currency division would have occupied the Rainbow Dam facility; Susteen at the time said it considered the powerhouse’s structural soundness, size, and secure location as ideal for its needs.

JULY 8: Company proposes data center for Old Rainbow Powerhouse
JULY 31: Plan submitted to give new life to Rainbow Dam powerhouse

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. Demolition of the facility is expected to begin in sometime in Autumn.

NorthWestern Energy would not comment on exactly why Susteen decided to pull out, and only noted that this was disappointing news, especially because of how much work Cascade County volunteers have put in to finding a new purpose for the old building since the new powerhouse began operating in 2013.

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.”

"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.”

“With this development from Susteen, Northwestern Energy has notified FERC, which is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that oversees our permit to run a hydro facility on the Missouri River, that Northwestern does intend to proceed with a plan to raze the original Rainbow Powerhouse,” said NorthWestern Energy Public Relations Specialist Jo Dee Black. “This has been a very long partnership with Cascade County and the dedicated volunteers of the Cascade County Historical Preservation Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee. You can tell by the name, that’s a very specific task that these volunteers have dedicated their time to, along with us since 2014, and before that with PPL Montana, to explore possibilities for the repurposing of this facility.”

Black explained that several factors made it difficult for the company to find a suitor for the old building, including its location, safety and security restrictions. NorthWestern Energy will continue to work with the Cascade County Historical Preservation Old Rainbow Powerhouse Repurposing Committee to find ways to remember the original building, which was built in 1910.

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.”

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.