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The winds of change

Montana State Roundup

May 1, 2004

The winds of change

The wind blows hard and steady enough in Montana to supply 15 percent of this country's electricity needs, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a wind industry trade group. The state ranks fifth overall in wind-energy potential. Yet Montana has virtually no wind generating capacity, relying on hydroelectric dams and coal-fired plants for the power it consumes and exports to other states.

That could change if plans for a wind farm near Great Falls come to fruition. Cascade County commissioners approved a commercial development permit for six 326-foot-tall turbines and a small substation in March. Montana's first commercial wind project, proposed by United Materials of Great Falls and Exergy Development Group of Missoula, would generate 9 megawatts, enough electricity for up to 4,500 homes. That's a far cry from the 1,300 Mw of wind power already built in Texas or the more than 600 Mw in western Minnesota.

Idaho Power Co. of Boise, a utility that serves 395,000 customers in Idaho and Oregon, has agreed to buy the wind farm's electricity. Construction was scheduled to begin on a site three miles northwest of the Great Falls airport this summer, pending approval of the Idaho wind power purchase agreement.

Phil Davies