Montana is experiencing a very important development in the renewable energy field, according to Erin Edholm, director of communication for National Wind, LLC, as the first utility-scale, community-owned wind development project is under way.
The Judith Highlands Energy project has the potential to be the largest development of its kind in the state and is expected to produce up to 500 megawatts in Fergus, Wheatland, Judith Basin, and Golden Valley counties. Edholm said the project incorporates over 50,000 acres of land through the support of nearly 30 local landowners.
The Judith Highlands Energy project will include anywhere from 250 to over 300 turbines when complete, depending on the turbine model used.
National Wind only sets up community-owned projects, according to Edholm, adding that the industry standard is to provide landowners an annual turbine lease payment, but National Wind’s development model offers landowners more than this.
The company makes those lease payments but they also allow the local members to share in the project’s revenues once the wind energy is converted to power. In addition, the state tax revenue generated by the local wind farm can be used to build local infrastructure and develop the local economy, she said.
“Our National Wind model seeks to allow local community participation, which provides potential for sharing in both turbine leases and revenues from a successful project,” said Patrick Pelstring, co-chair of National Wind, LLC.
Montana Wind Re-sources of Billings will jointly manage the wind farm with National Wind. Rhyno Stinchfield, Mon-tana Wind Resources chief executive officer, has 30 years of experience in the renewable resources field. Steve Tyrell, chief operating officer with Montana Wind Resources, has 12 years of experience in range management services throughout the Northern Rockies.
“Not only will this project help Western States reach their Renewable Portfolio Stan-dards, it also has the likelihood of providing substantial economic benefits to Montana,” says Stinchfield. “Steve and I have enjoyed working with Mon-tana ranchers and landowners over the past several years. However, nothing we’ve seen yet has possessed the economic potential of Judith Highlands. We need more developments like this across the state because community-owned wind projects can add significantly to the local economy.”
Other than access to the land to house the wind turbine, there is no financial investment necessary for the landowners, according to Edholdm.
She said the cost of construction, staffing and maintenance is paid for through financing, and the wind farm’s production taxes are paid for by the project company, Judith Highlands Energy, LLC.
The only outlay to the local landowners is land access. By allowing the company access to their land, landowners become part of the project and the profits.
Edholm said all landowners who have turbines are fairly compensated for crop loss in addition to the standard annual turbine lease payment. Any access roads that are developed on the land are also justly compensated.
“But many landowners also find out the roads are a benefit to them as well,” she explained.
Once the turbines are in place, landowners may grow crops or graze livestock right up to the base of the turbines just as before.
“We don’t want to disrupt their normal operations,” she said.
A typical turbine in this project will stand 400 feet tall and take up about half an acre of space. The project is expected to take five to eight years to complete.
Judith Highlands Energy’s development team has executed two leases for on-site meteorological equipment (met tower) installation that were installed in December. One year of on-site wind analysis is needed to effectively determine the best spots for wind turbine placement.
The company is also negotiating with transmission developers to carry the electricity to markets in the West. Edholm said that Montana has a very high ability to produce more energy than it needs. Therefore most of the power generated by the project will sent out of state.
“Montana’s current climate for transmission interconnection is challenging. However, we are working to make sure we have a feasible transmission strategy in place,” Edholm said. “Many active private transmission line building initiatives are in the works across the state that could serve the Judith Highlands project. Transmis-sion lines need to be installed before we start erecting the turbines.”
Once the turbines are up the company will maintain a crew in the area to service and maintain those turbines. Depending upon which model is chosen each General Electric turbine is capable of generating either 1.5 or 2.5 megawatts of power. When complete, this project will generate 500 megawatts.
The Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America Program has reported that 1,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity in Montana could add $1.2 billion in cumulative economic benefits, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.9 million tons, and save over 1,200 million gallons of water annually.
Montana is listed as one of the top five states with the country’s greatest wind potential according to the American Wind Energy Association.
National Wind is the nation’s largest developors of utility-scale, community-owned wind projects. They have been working with communities since 2003 and currently have 13 wind energy projects located across the U.S.
“We have a pipeline of over 4,000 megawatts of projects,” said Edholm, adding they are excited to see Montanans grow their ability to produce, sell and profit from wind energy.
Landowners interested in participation opportunities can contact Stinchfield, 406-651-8898; or Tyrrel, 406-855-7600, of Montana Wind Resources.
TERRI ADAMS, The Prairie Star – http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2010/01/29/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/local3.txt