It’s no Judith Gap, but Missoula does have its pockets of high-powered wind – enough to justify at least a couple of turbines.
That’s the conclusion of University of Montana alternative energy researcher Brian Kerns, who has spent the past three years “prospecting for wind resources” in and around the Garden City.
He recently wrapped up a 22-month wind study atop University Mountain, the hilltop behind Mount Sentinel, that proves the site is turbine-worthy. Other promising places, he said, include Mount Dean Stone, Pattee Canyon and Hellgate Canyon.
In fact, a working wind turbine is already using the Hellgate winds to supply up to 12 kilowatts of power to the Montana Technology Enterprise Center on East Broadway.
“I think there’s good potential for a wind energy project in Missoula,” Kerns said.
Kerns will discuss Missoula’s wind power potential, as well as various ownership models, Thursday evening as part of a free public lecture organized by the Sustainable Business Council.
The idea of a local cooperative for wind energy already has good traction in the state, Kerns said. Montana’s first wind power co-op, the Green Electricity Buying Cooperative of Billings, recently learned it will receive more than $31 million to build two wind farms as part of $72 million in interest-free federal money awarded to 34 wind projects scattered across the state.
“But Missoula wasn’t in there, and I think that’s a shame,” Kerns said.
Some are quick to dismiss the idea of wind power in Missoula because the majority of the state’s wind resources are east of the Continental Divide, he said. However, Kerns’ research shows the Missoula area is home to a number of small wind pockets – ridges that might power one or two turbines at a time and might produce a fair amount of electricity taken together.
With turbines going at about $3 million a pop, Missoula would probably want to start with a single tower situated smartly, so that it wouldn’t mar the view or cause problems for birds, Kerns said. A single small tower atop University Mountain might generate, at full power, between 1.5 and 2 megawatts of electricity. In comparison, the University of Montana uses 6 megawatts.
Even one working turbine would prove that it can be done and pave the way for future projects. Wind power could also be combined with other alternative energy sources in Missoula, such as solar panels and biomass use.
“There’s other ways of harnessing a lot of these energy sources, and having wind energy is part of a good mix,” Kerns said. “The point is, we’ve got to start taking steps.”
It takes time to organize wind energy projects, so if Missoula hopes to take advantage of any funding programs it has to start planning now, he said.
Every other month, the Sustainable Business Council sponsors a public lecture aimed at highlighting important issues at the local level, said board member Pete Talbot.
Past lectures have focused on biofuels, sustainable agriculture and green building. The council’s next two lectures are scheduled as follows:
Thursday, March 15, at MCAT, 500 N. Higgins Ave: “Sustainable Transportation and Light Rail in the Missoula Area” with Andy Sponseller of Ten Spoon Winery.
Thursday, May 17, at the Stensrud Events Center: “Orchard Gardens: A Case Study in Sustainable Housing Development” with Betsy Hands of homeWord.
By Tyler Christensen of the Missoulian
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