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Wind harvest  

VIRGINIA CITY – A California company is moving forward to build a wind farm on Norris Hill in Madison County that could produce enough electricity to power 45,000 homes.

Les Brown, a principal with Zebuln Renewable Energy LLC, told county commissioners Tuesday that his company has already leased more than 10,000 acres from area ranchers to build up to a 70-windmill farm, enough to generate up to 150 megawatts of electricity. The project would come with a $150 million price tag and provide an economic boost to the county.

“I’m not coming in here saying this is what we might do, it’s a nice area,” he said. “We already have contracts.” The wind farm, if completed, would bring to fruition a project that local residents have long speculated about.

Brown is bullish on the project, saying wind power is only going to grow as the demand for power increases and government demands more from renewable sources. Wind power is going to be a major part of the solution to weaning the United States from foreign oil and Madison County could be a key player in statewide drive to develop the renewable source.

The reason Norris Hill, located 12 miles north of Ennis on Highway 287, is well suited for wind power has as much to do with the infrastructure there as it does the persistent wind, Brown said. A major power line and substation runs through the area, making it a perfect junction to deliver the power generated.

And the wind out of the south is often fierce. Brown during his presentation showed a picture of trees in the area leaning to the south, with grasses also bent over.

“For this kind of project those are incredible assets,” he said. “Some of these areas are so windswept that you really can’t do anything with them.” The plan calls for 70 windmills that would each be about 200 feet tall spread out east of Highway 287. Madison Valley Renewable Energy LLC, the company under Zebuln that is working on the project, has leased land from ranchers Barry Rice, Ray Easter and Dee Owens to build the windmills.

But those ranchers will notice little of the windmills once they’re built, Brown said. Brown cited examples from other wind projects in the Midwest where the landowner has little loss of cropland or pasture from the windmills.

“I’ve been to places in Iowa where they grow corn right up next to them,” he said. Other environmental concerns will be considered as well, Brown said.

Most of the windmills won’t be visible from the highway. In addition, newer windmills turn slower than older models, allowing birds to see and avoid them, which has been a concern on some wind projects.

The wind farm would also create dozens of good-paying jobs during its construction, as well as longer term for the technicians and maintenance workers who would run it, Brown said.

Brown said it would require roughly a year and a half’s data from eight gauges they plan to put up to prove to investors the area is windy enough before construction could start. If the project moves forward the farm would take about nine months to build.

Commissioner Dave Schulz said he liked the project in concept, especially its component of getting Madison County involved in creating clean energy.

“We have to become self-sustaining,” he said. “Certainly this is a step toward that.”

By Nick Gevock, of The Montana Standard

montanastandard.com

14 March 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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