Article

Pinning hopes on wind

Churning wind turbines may soon power Cascade County's courthouse, jail and health department.

Cascade is one of 35 counties, cities and towns in Montana that are requesting a total of $37.2 million in zero-interest loans to pay for wind turbines that will power government operations.

As part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, $500 million is available nationally to counties, cities and schools for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. Cooperatives are vying for another $300 million.

Though the money could be used for geothermal, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas and other clean forms of energy, all of Montana's plans are for small wind farms.

Most would be just one or two turbines of 1 to 1.5 megawatts — nothing as big as the 90-turbine Judith Gap wind farm.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., pushed to have the program prioritize funding the smallest requests first, putting the needs of sparsely populated cities and counties — like those in Montana — at the top of the list.

"It's in your best interests to be a small applicant," said Mike Costanti, who is coordinating the 35 applications with Matney-Frantz Engineering in Bozeman.

"All indications are that the applications coming out of Montana will be some of the smallest in the nation," he said.

Baucus said Wednesday that putting... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Cascade is one of 35 counties, cities and towns in Montana that are requesting a total of $37.2 million in zero-interest loans to pay for wind turbines that will power government operations.

As part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, $500 million is available nationally to counties, cities and schools for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. Cooperatives are vying for another $300 million.

Though the money could be used for geothermal, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas and other clean forms of energy, all of Montana's plans are for small wind farms.

Most would be just one or two turbines of 1 to 1.5 megawatts — nothing as big as the 90-turbine Judith Gap wind farm.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., pushed to have the program prioritize funding the smallest requests first, putting the needs of sparsely populated cities and counties — like those in Montana — at the top of the list.

"It's in your best interests to be a small applicant," said Mike Costanti, who is coordinating the 35 applications with Matney-Frantz Engineering in Bozeman.

"All indications are that the applications coming out of Montana will be some of the smallest in the nation," he said.

Baucus said Wednesday that putting small projects first was important to stop one or a few large projects from scooping up all the money.

"We wrote it in a way to be sure that the smaller applicants were not discriminated against," he said. "I'm in a position to make that happen."

He doesn't know how many agencies Montana's 35 requests will be competing against, but Baucus likes Montana's chances.

Costanti and Cascade County Commission Chairwoman Peggy Beltrone hand-delivered the applications in Washington, D.C., to meet the Wednesday deadline.

Most of the requests are coming from counties and towns east of the Continental Divide, where wind is plentiful. The counties and towns should hear whether their projects made the cut in 60 days.

The program is similar to funds available to private businesses to encourage clean, renewable power generation.

Cascade County pays roughly $200,000 for power each year. To generate the four megawatts of energy needed to power the county facilities, a dozen 82-foot-tall turbines would be built.

The project would cost $3.56 million. The county's savings on its electricity bill would be used to pay off the loan in about 18 years. Extra power could be sold to NorthWestern Energy and help make loan payments.

No site for the turbines has been identified, but residents will have opportunities to weigh in on possible locations, officials say.

Liberty County and Chester are jointly asking for money to put in eight wind turbines that could be built five miles east of Chester.

The spot already has a substation to transport the power generated, and the county has been measuring wind gusts on the location for two years.

"It'll be a big help to offset our growing power bills," said Liberty County Commissioner Don Marble. "We won't see any savings immediately, but down the road it'll really be great."

Liberty County intends to buy used turbines costing $800,000, about half the price of new ones. They also expect to pay more for future upkeep.

Powering the county, schools and hospital in Chouteau County costs approximately $120,000 a year.

Commissioner Jim O'Hara said Chouteau County has long been looking at developing wind or fuel hybrids for power.

So the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds are tough to resist.

"We just feel it's a resource that's completely untapped and this might be the time to tap it," he said. "It'll also create some jobs in rural communities."

Baucus is trying to expand the bond program to $2.4 billion over three years, stretching into 2010.

Counties and cities that get the bond money have five years to spend it and about 12 years to pay it back. They aren't obligated to spend the bond proceeds if the government bodies change their minds about the energy projects.

To make a request, the counties paid Matney-Frantz Engineering $500 each. They aren't committed to hire the company should they build the wind plants, but with the insight of preparing the requests, Matney-Frantz would have an edge in landing the contracts.

Cascade County Deputy Civil Attorney Greg Bonilla said the Legislature would need to add the type of bonds to a list of financial tools that counties can use before the projects get off the ground.

He expects the housekeeping measure to be handled in the 2007 legislative session.


Source: http://www.greatfallstribun...

APR 27 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/2326-pinning-hopes-on-wind
back to top