Editor’s Note: Chief Executive is kicking off a new annual tradition this year by celebrating every sizable (over $100 million in annual revenues) standalone company turning 100 in 2023. Check out the rest of this year’s class for tips, insights and, above all else, the inspiration you need to keep going….and going.
HQ: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Revenues: $1.5 billion
Today, NorthWestern is a $1.5 billion electric and natural-gas utility whose 1,530 employees serve more than 764,000 customers across the western two-thirds of Montana, eastern South Dakota, Nebraska and Yellowstone National Park. But it incorporated in 1923 as Northwestern Public Service, bringing together three small utility companies in Nebraska and two in South Dakota.
Over the next two decades, NorthWestern purchased dozens of local and regional energy companies covering coal, gas and oil-generating properties. Its growth began accommodating the burgeoning energy-exploration business by, for instance, building nearly 250 miles of 20-inch transmission pipeline in Montana in 1931. During the Depression, the utility company kept the lights on by cutting rates five times over eight years.
NorthWestern’s contribution to building out the regional power infrastructure over the decades culminated in bringing online in 2022 the 58-megawatt, natural gas-fired Bob Glanzer Generating Station in South Dakota. The $83 million electricity facility features six Caterpillar reciprocating internal-combustion engines and a highly efficient, lean-burn design for less fuel usage. Now, as NorthWestern Energy, the utility also owns and operates more than 9,900 miles of natural-gas pipelines.
Lighting Up the West
NorthWestern prides itself on reliability. On average, its customers experienced fewer than 120 minutes of outage time in 2022, “notable, among other reasons, because of the rural nature of our service territory,” NorthWestern CEO Brian Bird reported in the company’s most recent annual report. At times, keeping lights on and factories humming can be harrowing. In May 2022, for example, a derecho—a widespread, long-lived windstorm including a band of rapidly moving thunderstorms—hit South Dakota, stripping power from about 9,500 NorthWestern Energy electricity customers. The company’s crews rallied, working around the clock for several days after the storm to restore power to more than 85 percent of impacted customers.
This response garnered a peer award by the Edison Electric Institute. “Though it was clearly an honor to be recognized,” Bird wrote, “this type of response is what we expect from our incredible employees.”