Chicago-based Invenergy, the owner of the Judith Gap Wind farm, is in discussions with Cascade County planners about putting up a smaller 24-megawatt wind facility near Belt, which would be Cascade County’s second commercial wind farm, according to county officials.
Alissa Krinsky, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to comment on the plans Friday.
Invenergy has not officially submitted an application for a permit, but Susan Conell, the county’s interim planner, said county planners had a pre-application meeting with company representatives Oct. 27 to discuss a wind farm on 3,500 acres. The facility would have up to 16, 1.5-megawatt wind turbines.
Brian Clifton, the county’s Public Works director, said the proposal is for an area between Tiger Butte Road and U.S. Highway 89 west of Belt.
Conell said she expects Invenergy to submit an application for a special-use permit any day.
County commissioners also recently met with Invenergy officials to discuss tax incentives for the project.
“I’m glad that Invenergy has begun preliminary discussions with the Cascade County Planning Department,” Commissioner Bill Salina said. “They have proven to be a responsible developer in other areas of the state.”
The pre-application meeting was a chance for the developer to “sound out” what they were considering, and a chance for county planners to discuss what the developers should contemplate in the application, Conell said.
Issues that would need to be considered in developing wind farms in the county are proximity to other uses, impacts to bird and bat migration corridors and potential conflicts with Malmstrom Air Force Base.
“We will seek comment from the base and make sure there are not issues from them,” Conell said.
The land is zoned agricultural. Invenergy would need a special-use permit from the county Zoning Board of Adjustment to proceed.
Invenergy owns and operates the 135-megawatt Judith Gap wind farm in Wheatland County and sells the electricity produced there to NorthWestern Energy.
The Belt wind farm would be Cascade County’s second commercial wind farm. Horseshoe Bend, which has six turbines, is a private wind development owned by United Materials of Great Falls. It was developed by Exergy Development Group and completed in 2006.
County Treasurer Jess Anderson said Horseshoe Bend produces $175,000 annually in property taxes. If 16 turbines are put up in the Tiger Butte area, they would generate an estimated $466,000 annually in taxes, he said.
Invenergy officials first said in April that they were working on two additional wind farms in the state, near Belt and Conrad. At that time, they also said that the company contributed financially to a new Great Falls-to-Townsend transmission line that’s being studied by Toronto-based Tonbridge Power Inc. That power line is being jointly proposed by Tonbridge and wind developer Gaelectric, which has an office in Great Falls, to increase southbound transmission capacity to move energy from proposed wind farms to larger markets.
About 60 percent of the state’s power generation is fueled by coal, followed by hydroelectricity (34 percent), with wind-powered generation increasing.
Four industrial-scale wind projects have gone online in Montana since 2005, moving the state from a ranking of 50th in the nation in wind energy production to 15th, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
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