By Linda Bruch for the Cut Bank Pioneer Press
A new wind is blowing. Well, maybe it’s the same old wind in Glacier County, but in about a year, it’s going to start being useful. Construction will be underway this fall on the McCormick Ranch Wind Park Project with “completion before the end of next year,” said Bill Alexander, President and CEO of Great Plains Wind & Energy, Inc. “We are only very slightly delayed, just about a month is all.”
Even though there isn’t a lot of visible work being done at the wind park site, that doesn’t mean the Great Plains Wind & Energy group hasn’t been busy. “The site work has been minimal at this point, but there is a lot of activity taking place behind the scenes,” assured Alexander.
Part of that activity includes all the environmental impact studies and surveys Great Plains has been performing on the wind park site over the past several months. With all of those hurdles cleared, the team can move ahead into the obvious phase of the development, the construction.
“The project has expanded and is a bit larger than originally planned,” said Alexander. “The turbines are going to be somewhat larger and there will be even more of them.”
This is good news as the bigger the project becomes, the more it will improve the tax base of Glacier County. That figure went from $90 million to $150 million over the next 20 years.
Those numbers speak for themselves in terms of value for Glacier County. However, the wind farm benefits don’t stop there. During the construction phase, there will be approximately 150 to 200 workers hired on as the construction crew. “Great Plains will hire a general contractor who will then subcontract out the various jobs,” said Alexander. “We will be asking them to employ as many of the local people as possible.”
Again, more good news, but the wind park benefits don’t stop there either. Once the construction is complete, in a little over a year, it will take at least 15 technicians to run the project and maintain it 365 days a year. That’s 15 new jobs for the county, meaning more families will be coming here to live and work.
Perhaps the best news of all is how Great Plains has found a way to “turn” those sometimes irritating Cut Bank and Glacier County winds into an energy product we all need, electricity. “It’s a way to get even with Mother Nature and those winds everyone has cussed for so long,” joked Alexander.
It doesn’t take much wind, only about six mph, for the turbines to generate electricity. However, the “more wind, the more electricity,” said Alexander. “We hope to have winds consistently averaging above 17 mph.” A resounding “that’s not a problem” can be heard from every Glacier County resident who knows firsthand what kind of wind can be found in this area.
The McCormick Ranch Wind Park Project is located between the Marias River north to Hjartarson Road and between McCormick and Sullivan Bridge Roads. With the expansion of the project, it will stretch even closer to U.S. Highway 2 than originally planned.
“This is the first of three wind farms planned in this part of Montana,” informed Alexander. With Great Plains investors having seen the area this past week for the first time and confirming its wind value, there’s no doubt the other two projects will be seen on horizons in the future.
Speaking of horizons, it is a given the wind park will provide a different look to skylines and horizons once the large turbines are erected at the site. “They will definitely be seen from a long ways away,” declared Alexander. However, these wind turbines are so much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than those of their kind from years ago.
These slow moving, gentle looking, “moving sculptures,” as Alexander calls them, aren’t an eye sore for the land. Instead it is a pleasure to see these giants in motion, gracefully turning their enormous blades, all for the purpose of generating electricity. Only something this big could take a once uncontrollable force, leash it and produce a controlled form of energy. They are a thing of beauty and power.
A new wind is blowing and thanks to the McCormick Ranch Wind Park Project, and Great Plains Wind & Energy, Glacier County residents are saying, let it blow.