Tag Archives: Wind Energy

State’s Future is Blowin’ in the Wind

Commercial wind power in Montana dates back to the early 1980s, when a half dozen windmills were erected south of Livingston. Although windmills have been used to pump water and generate power on Montana farms and ranches for decades, the Livingston windmills were part of a demonstration project designed to test the feasibility of commercial wind power in Montana. Unfortunately, those early windmills, plagued by weak propeller blades and exploding turbines, soon fell victim to the relentless winds of the upper Yellowstone Valley.
Windmill technology has advanced considerably since then, and the state’s first industrial wind farm opened at Judith Gap in 2005. This operation, which is now slated for expansion, produces 135-megawatts (MW) of electricity. Montana ranks fifth among the states in potential wind energy production, but only 18th in actual generating capacity. However, wind generation in the state nearly doubled last year, and similar growth is expected in 2009. Currently the state’s wind turbines generate 271 MW, enough to power approximately 75,000 homes.
Wind energy in America has enjoyed a 25% annual growth rate over the past five years, and within 20 years could provide as much as one-fifth of the country’s electricity. The US Department of Energy predicts that Montana alone may produce 10,000 MW of wind energy by 2035, which would result in an annual reduction of almost 30 million tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.
Approximately 17 million acres (one-fifth of the state) are suitable for wind development, with most of this land located east of the Continental Divide. The highest wind speeds are often found near relatively pristine areas like the Rocky Mountain Front and the Absaroka, Beartooth and Crazy Mountains, but millions of acres of suitable land lie in less-sensitive areas as well.
There are several downsides to wind farms. They are noisy, detract from the Treasure State’s scenery, and are often deadly to migratory birds and bats. The numerous roads needed for large wind farms fragment wildlife habitat, although this can be minimized by siting wind farms on the 9 million acres of suitable cropland in the state. Another disadvantage of wind is that no electricity is produced when the wind doesn’t blow, so dams or conventional coal and gas plants are needed to “firm up” the unpredictable load.
An Irish company thinks they have found a partial solution to this problem. Gaelectric is interested in building several large-scale wind farms in Montana, and is also planning to test a Compressed-Air Energy Storage system (CAES) in the state. CAES is a method of storing energy by using electricity to compress air, which is then stored in underground caverns until needed, when it is converted back into electricity.
Gaelectric is not the only foreign company interested in Montana’s wind. Last fall a Spanish company named NaturEner finished construction of 71 wind turbines at the Glacier Wind Project southeast of Cut Bank, the first phase of a planned 210-megawatt wind farm, and a German company has announced plans to break ground this spring on a plant to manufacture wind turbines in Butte.
A number of proposed large-scale wind developments got a boost last fall when a new 214-mile-long power-line between Great Falls and Lethbridge received final approval. Gov. Brian Scheweitzer has predicted that this power-line could spur construction of an additional 600 MW of wind-power, and an infusion of nearly $1 billion into the Montana economy.
Every 100 MW of new wind generation supports up to 500 jobs, and both the Wind Applications Center (WAC) at Montana State University and the Great Falls College of Technology are developing programs to train technicians and engineers. The WAC has already installed a small wind turbine on the MSU campus, and plans to install windmills at schools in Livingston, Stanford, Cascade, and Fairfield as part of a national pilot program called Wind for Schools.
By next year Montana utilities will be required to obtain 10% of their total energy production from renewable energy, up from the current 5%. Montana also has specific tax breaks for installing wind turbines, and small generators are exempted from property taxes for 5 years. However, local wind producers recently suffered a setback when a House committee in the state legislature killed HB 491, a bill that would have required Northwestern Energy to buy wind-power from small wind farms.
Large-scale commercial wind farms, which didn’t exist in Montana five years ago, face a brighter future however, and it appears they will play an increasingly important part of the state’s economy for many years to come.


Montana wind farms – http://dnrc.mt.gov/trust/wind

Montana Wind Working Group – http://www.deq.mt.gov/Energy/

Wind powering America (US Dept. of Energy) – http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov

American Wind Energy Association – http://www.awea.org/

Energy Conservation Tax Credits – http://mt.gov/revenue/energyconservation.asp

Montana Wind Action Center – http://www.coe.montana.edu/wind/

Wind for Schools Program – http://www.westerncommunityenergy.com


Tax credits for renewable energy

Tax time is here, and many folks don’t realize that there are federal and state tax credits available for energy conservation projects and the production of renewable energy. The Federal government has a tax credit for businesses that install solar, wind, microturbines, or fuel cells. This credit is due to drop to 10% by the end of this year, but currently the credit is set at 30% to encourage the installation of solar, wind, and fuel cells. More information can be found at www.energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm

The Montana Department of Revenue offers incentives for individuals and corporations. Individuals can get an income tax credit worth 25% of their investment in qualifying renewable energy projects for their home or other building, up to $500. Individuals can also qualify for an Alternative Energy Systems Credit for installing solar panels, windmills, pellet stoves, biomass generators, or other forms of renewable energy. Both individuals and corporations can qualify for tax credits for converting a vehicle to alternate fuels, crushing oilseeds, production and blending of biofuels and a number of other activities that may save energy. There is even a tax credit for equipment used to manufacture materials from recycled goods. While most of the above credits apply to income tax, there is a property tax exemption for the installation of non-fossil fuel generating systems in homes and businesses. More information can be found at www.mt.gov/revenue/energyconservation. For information on other states, check out the Database of state incentives for renewable energy at www.dsireusa.org.


Two Dot Wind asks for regulatory relief

On Thursday, Two Dot Wind LLC of Billings asked the Montana Public Service Commission to reject Northwestern Energy’s plan to charge what they feel is an exorbitant integration fee to add power from the company’s wind generators into Northwestern’s electrical grid. Northwestern’s position is that if they are required to buy the four megawatts of power generated by Two Dot Wind at Martinsdale and Livingston, they will also need to purchase an equal amount of regulating reserve power to make up for times when the wind isn’t blowing, and that Two Dot Wind should be responsible for paying for the extra costs of integrating that power output. Two Dot Wind and representatives of other small wind generating companies contend that the cost of integrating their power into the grid is small, and that they should not have to pay unless Northwestern comes up with a study that shows the actual cost. They fear that if the Public Service Commission allows the higher cost, wind energy companies will abandon projects in Montana in favor of neighboring states with lower integration costs. Two Dot Wind was founded by Billings doctor David Healow, and owns wind turbines at the Martinsdale Hutterite Colony and just north of Two Dot.

The Helena Independent Record article by Mike Dennison on this story can be found at www.helenair.com/articles/2008/03/07/top/55st_080307_wind.txt