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.