Recent Montana wind energy projects hint at economic promise

January 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

“Steady wind energy polices are paying off.” This might well be
the subheading to the recent flurry of articles detailing new wind
energy development in Montana. In case you missed the good news,
here are the highlights:

First, two weeks ago, wind-energy developer NaturEner announced
the start of construction for its 189-megawatt Rim Rock wind farm
near Shelby, which is expected to generate enough energy to power
more than 60,000 homes, and will offset more than 389,000 metric
tons of CO2 emissions per year. If NaturEner’s neighboring
210-megawatt Glacier Wind Farm is any indication of the number of
jobs we can expect, Rim Rock will create more than 300 man-years
worth of employment in the construction phase, plus dozens of
good-paying, permanent jobs once operating.

Next, the new 10-megawatt Gordon Butte wind farm near
Martinsdale went online last week. The project is quintessentially
Montanan, having been developed by Bozeman’s own Oversight
Resources, constructed by Dick Anderson Construction, headquartered
in Helena, and financed by Stockman Bank, headquartered in Miles
City. These kinds of community wind projects are extremely popular
and should be roundly supported as they recycle profits back into
the state, to create an even bigger economic impact.

Montana wind is also attracting investment dollars from farther
afield. This week, Goldwind, a global turbine manufacturer,
announced it would begin construction on a new 20-megawatt wind
farm east of Harlowton.

Finally, if the Public Service Commission approves Northwestern
Energy’s proposed purchase of the 40-megawatt Spion Kop wind
project, a plan that drew the support of the Montana Consumer
Counsel, the $86 million project is also expected to be constructed
this year.

Individually these projects mean jobs for Montanans, local and
state tax revenues, and millions of dollars in royalty payments to
landowners. They also mean a cleaner, healthier environment for
Montana and America. Collectively, they point toward results on a
forward-looking vision of energy, led by Montana policymakers in
partnership with local, regional and global businesses.

Montana has charted a steady course to developing our tremendous
wind energy resource. In 2005, Gov. Schweitzer and then Sen. Jon
Tester passed Montana’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard with
bipartisan support. The bill jump-started several renewable energy
projects, including our state’s first major wind farm at Judith
Gap. In 2007, Gov. Schweitzer shepherded “clean and green” energy
legislation though the legislature, putting Montana at the
forefront of the nation in offering tax incentives for clean energy
development and attracting new businesses to the state. The
policies are paying off. Before 2005, Montana had just one megawatt
of wind energy installed. Today, we could have 635 megawatts
installed by the end of 2012.

At the federal level, Montana Sen. Max Baucus has been a key
supporter of the most important policy for wind energy development,
the wind energy production tax credit or PTC. The two cents per kilowatt-hour
performance-based tax break for wind energy has also drawn the past
support of Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg. In 2006, he wrote a letter
to then President Bush asking that the PTC be extended, though he has been regrettably quiet
on the current proposal to extend the PTC. And since taking up his post in the Senate,
Tester has continued to provide wind energy leadership, supporting
the PTC and introducing legislation that
would encourage more community wind projects, like the Gordon Butte
project.

making clean energy part of our economic development strategy,
Montanans have harnessed our natural resources in new ways and
attracted nearly $1.5 billion in investments from renewable energy
companies that see Montana as a good place to do business. While
our recent success should be celebrated, it could also signal more
good things to come. With continued support and stable policies,
Montana could truly begin to tap our wind energy potential,
producing jobs and economic opportunity at home, and much needed
clean energy for the nation.

Jeff L. Fox is the Montana policy advocate for Renewable
Northwest Project, a non-profit advocacy group promoting the
responsible development of renewable energy resources.

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