Wind energy developers have invested $1.5 billion in wind development in Montana and have created 100 permanent jobs and 1,500 construction jobs, Gov. Steve Bullock said May 26 as he viewed the Fairfield Wind and Greenfield Wind projects in Teton County.
Wind energy is already an active part of Montana’s energy production industry and will likely continue to grow as the nation puts an even higher emphasis on renewable resource, Bullock said.
Following the tour at the wind farms site north of Fairfield, Bullock hosted his third energy roundtable in Great Falls, soliciting input and engagement from energy stakeholders, business owners, and industry and policy leaders from across Montana.
Bullock opened his energy tour with a solar energy roundtable in Bozeman at Simms Fishing Products and toured the building’s new solar panel array. He next toured a weatherization project at a local home in Missoula and held a roundtable about energy efficiency efforts happening across the state.
On May 31, he was scheduled to be in Colstrip to hold another roundtable and discuss his recent visit with Colstrip owners Talen, Puget Sound Energy, and NorthWestern Energy.
Using input from across the state, Bullock expects to release his plans for Montana’s energy future in June.
Montana is a big energy producer and exporter, he said. “We have increasing opportunities in that we have an abundance of resources,” he added.
Montana has the best wind potential in the nation, 28 percent of the nation’s coal, and great solar potential as well, he said, and the state needs to be poised to take advantage of those resources in the changing energy climate.
“The universe is shifting under our feet when it comes to energy,” he said.
At the wind farm site in Teton County, located on private property at Seventh Road Northeast and First Lane Northeast, Bullock listened to wind developer Marty Wilde talk about the six-turbine Fairfield Wind project, which is now up and running, and the 13-turbine Greenfield Wind project that broke ground this spring.
Wilde, who is the principal engineer and chief executive officer of WINData LLC, has been working in wind development in Montana since 1991 and has developed small and large projects here and in California and Wyoming. “I haven’t gotten rich yet,” he told Bullock. Working in the state of Montana, he said, “has been challenging and interesting.”
He said the state needs to revamp its Community Renewable Energy Program regulations, which were designed to encourage community wind production but actually are hampering small projects. “The spirit of the law is great,” he said. “The implementation needs to be refined.”
While the regulatory side of the process has been at times frustrating, Wilde said dealing with local landowners and with contractor Dick Anderson Construction has been smooth.
Allan Frankl, vice president of Dick Anderson Construction, said his company has been breaking down the perception that no one in Montana could build wind projects. Now his company has been involved in building wind farms that generate 100 megawatts of power. “I think there’s a great model with community wind,” he said, adding that his company is also working on some projects in Minnesota.
Wilde told the governor that the Greenfield Wind project will be ready to produce power by the end of September.
Reece Brown, whose family owns the land on which the Fairfield Wind project is built, said the revenue the family receives through lease and royalty agreements is a welcome addition to the farm’s income, but the development of the two wind farms is also bringing much-needed new property tax revenue to Teton County and school district coffers.