Recognizing a Hydropower Champion – Mary Gail Sullivan Receives the Henwood Award

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Recognizing a Hydropower Champion – Mary Gail Sullivan Receives the Henwood Award


October 25, 2022


Jeremy Chase-Israel, Content Development Specialist, NHA


Recognizing a Hydropower Champion – Mary Gail Sullivan Receives the Henwood Award

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The Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award is the hydropower industry’s highest honor, and each year, the award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated unwavering commitment to the industry.

At the Clean Currents 2022 Conference + Trade Show, which was held last week in Sacramento, California, Mary Gail Sullivan, Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting and Compliance, NorthWestern Energy, received the Henwood Award.

Sullivan, who was joined in California by her two daughters, remarked after the award ceremony:

I’ve had a tremendous career, but even as I look forward to spending more time with my grandkids, I don’t plan on quitting my advocacy or support for hydropower. I plan to keep pushing for hydro to be the resource of choice to address the climate crisis.

As the 32nd recipient of the Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award, Mary Gail Sullivan joined the ranks of influential industry champions and reflected on the proceedings with humility:

It feels like this award will give people at NorthWestern Energy, and others, the confidence to be involved, and I want to be seen as someone who made a difference. I like the idea that I’m moving hydropower forward as a resource for future generations.


I have always tried to use persuasion to get to solutions and use relationships to help navigate competing priorities. I can relate to a Montana trademark, which is to be plain speaking and fair dealing – that’s who I am as a person, more than anything.” Mary Gail Sullivan

Mary Gail Sullivan’s love of Montana is hard coded into her DNA. Born in Montana, Sullivan has made a life for herself in the 41st state, and it has served as the backdrop for her career, family, and love of the environment.

After graduating from the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation – University of Montana with a degree in Outdoor Recreation, Sullivan was hired by the Environmental Department at the Montana Power Company. It was there that she held various positions, including the Coordinator of Land Use and Recreation, Director of Environmental Permitting, and, ultimately, Director of Hydro Relicensing for nine hydroelectric projects on the Missouri and Madison rivers. It was in this role that Sullivan fostered innovative stewardship solutions for the protection, mitigation, and enhancement of the river along its 525-mile route.

Demonstrating impressive leadership skills during her tenure as the Director of Hydro Relicensing, Sullivan transitioned into a new role as the Director of Environmental Compliance, a position which demanded her expertise in auditing both safety and environmental function areas. From this role, Sullivan became Director of Internal Audit, supervising a team of accounting personnel, before accepting a job with NorthWestern Energy as Manager of the Environmental Department.

It was at Northwestern Energy that Sullivan’s proven track record of dependable leadership and communications knowledge placed her at the helm of the organization’s efforts to reform the Environmental Department, which had all but dissolved following deregulation and the sale of generation.


Shortly after Sullivan was hired, NorthWestern Energy expressed interest in purchasing 11 hydroelectric projects and one storage reservoir, all of which had once been owned by Montana Power Company. With a combined generating capacity of 633 MW, NorthWestern Energy’s proposed purchase required the approval of the Montana Public Service Commission.

Possessing both knowledge of the projects and an understanding of their inherent value, Sullivan dove headfirst into the work: developing pre-filing written testimonies, responding to numerous data requests, and collecting oral testimonies and cross examinations.

For every hurdle she faced, Sullivan faced the challenge with poise, clear communication, and an infectious attitude that radiated positivity. Through her hard work and determination, Sullivan helped educate and convince the Montana Public Service Commission of NorthWestern Energy’s responsibility and unparalleled stewardship of the river, emphasizing the importance of environmental compliance.

The talent Sullivan demonstrated in the management and execution of the multiple agreements for the hydropower projects is the result of her talent, fairness, and honesty – qualities Sullivan ascribes to the nature of all Montanans. These characteristics make her the ideal relationship manager for the important communication and trust needed to foster cooperation with Montana’s tribal nations, as well as the maintenance and protection of the state’s environmental resources – a priority for Montana residents.

It is Sullivan’s renown steadfastness and determination that define her success in environmental areas, as evidenced by NorthWestern’s continued support of the O’Dell Creek Project, which began in the early 2000’s as a way of repairing damage that started in the 1950’s when the area was ditched and drained to expand usable land for agriculture. In doing so, a unique wetland was partially drained and damaged.

Since then, more than 14 miles of creek channel have been restored and 815 acres of wetlands created, resulting in improvements to an important tributary to the Madison River. The award-winning project has resulted in improved fish habitats, increased plant and wildlife diversity, improved water quality, and re-establishment of wetland obligate species – animals dependent on a particular habitat to breed.

In a press release highlighting the ongoing project, Sullivan said:

We all want to see an environmental win, which is what we have with this project. When the hydroelectric dams were relicensed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the privilege of generating electricity on Montana rivers, there was an obligation to fund environmental and recreational projects. That funding, along with the need at O’Dell Creek and most importantly, willing partners in the landowners, were the ingredients for a successful project.”


I like the water – it’s the original renewable and it’s reusable. Our projects use the same drop of water over and over again. I’ve always been drawn to water, and I’ve always had opportunities to work with it in my career. I deeply care about the environment, and I want to leave the world a bit better for the next generation. I believe hydropower is part of the climate change solution.” Mary Gail Sullivan

Mary Gail Sullivan is a hydropower champion, carrying the industry’s torch with a pragmatist’s mind and a reverence for understanding all sides. Having led as President of the Northwest Hydropower Association, board member of National Hydropower Association (NHA), and key supporter of the Women in Hydropower Mentorship Program, Sullivan’s enthusiasm for the industry is contagious.

Whether Sullivan is mentoring the next generation of hydro workers, spending time with her family, or playing tennis, the passion she brings is unparalleled. Her character embodies that of Dr. Kenneth Henwood, and her dedication to hydropower is representative of the same industry legends who received the award prior.

Mary Gail Sullivan sitting with her daughters at Clean Currents 2022.


The Dr. Kenneth Henwood Award is presented by NHA to an individual within the waterpower industry who exhibits:

  • Dedication to hydropower as an energy technology;
  • Persistence in the face of institutional obstacles;
  • Appreciation and understanding of the relationships among project engineering, environment and economics;
  • A strong commitment for fair dealing and plain speaking; and
  • Uncommon energy, enthusiasm, and excitement as a leading force in the industry.

Click here to learn more about the award.