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Wind Energy Powering Homes, Rural Communities

Wind Energy Powering Homes, Rural Communities

Date: 10/1/2007

Source: Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service

Audio with Peggy Beltrone, Cascade County, Montana Commissioner (MP3 3.6 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:49.

Wind as an energy resource is a concept that's catching on in the U.S. and around the globe. Today, the U.S. can generate more than 10-thousand megawatts of electricity from wind — enough to power 2.5-million average American homes. In the future, with proper development, industry experts predict wind energy could provide 20-percent of the nation's energy needs.

Not only is wind energy important to the nation, but it's important to rural areas. That's according to Cascade County, Montana Commissioner Peggy Beltrone who says the impacts of wind energy may actually surprise some.

"It first crystallized for me that wind was important following a two-year poverty reduction planning process that I co-chaired in north central Montana. We looked at the out migration of people in the rural areas and devastating poverty on the Indian reservations in that area. And I was beginning to work with National Renewable Energy Lab on wind energy and it became apparent that this was a strategy for the poverty-stricken rural areas of Montana."

Wind projects in Montana produce 145-megawatts. Beltrone says Cascade County is home to locally-owned Horseshoe Bend — a nine megawatt facility. While that's a very small piece of the wind energy pie in Montana, and the U.S. overall, she says it's making a big difference to the local communities.

"Horseshoe Bend has brought in needed tax dollars to our rural part of the county, which had been having a decline in its tax base for many years. So the dollars that came in as a result of the Horseshoe Bend wind project are going to the rural schools, the road department, rural libraries and the health department. The rural areas have very little growth and so we've seen an impact where it really matters to rural residents."

Beltrone says local landowners can play a big role in bringing wind energy to these rural areas. She says that's not without its benefits to the landowners themselves.

"Where we see a lot of potential is in the very large utility-scale wind parks. And what they offer are leases to landowners. And so a very large park might be 100 machines, and they may be bringing in three, four-thousand dollars per megawatt to a landowner in a lease payment, so it's very attractive."

That's why Beltrone says the Cascade County government is aggressively working to connect landowners and developers in the county and is waving the banner for the wind resource that's available. In fact — she says 13 anemometers are verifying sites in the county today.

"These wind meters or met towers have to remain up for about 18 months to test the quality of the wind and many of these have just gone up in the last several months. So there's investment that is happening, there's wind leases that have been negotiated, and we are seeing the signs of good things to come."

But in the end, a rural community's wind energy strategy, according to Beltrone, must also include transmission. She notes rural areas aren't always close to the big cities that consume the electricity produced by wind projects. She says it's important to have a transmission line to carry the energy to those consumers. When looking at economic feasibility, Beltrone says a community must consider how to move that resource to the market.

This information was last updated on October 01, 2007