A Colorado-based renewable energy company has announced plans to build its second wind farm in Montana.
If completed, the $40 million project north of Glasgow would generate up to 23 megawatts of electricity, while providing new tax revenue to Valley County, royalties to landowners and employment for 65 to 85 people during the construction phase.
Compass Energies, best known in Montana for construction of the Spion Kop wind farm north of Geyser, began exploring the potential for a wind farm in northern Valley County in 2010. According to development director Kyle Paulson, the project has now advanced to the point where Compass Energies is negotiating with utility companies to purchase electricity from the proposed 13 turbine wind farm.
“Those negotiations continue, and if we can reach an agreement to purchase the power, then we would potentially start construction this fall,” Paulson said. “The most aggressive schedule we could have would be to build roads and maybe lay some foundations for the turbines in late fall, and then probably take a break in the winter. We could then restart with the erection phase in late spring and summer of next year.”
Compass Energies has already arranged lease agreements with four property owners for the use of 1,400 acres of land south of Opheim. The project would be designed to link in to the existing electrical transmission infrastructure of NorVal Electric, a regional electricity cooperative serving 1,925 customers in Valley, Daniels and Roosevelt counties.
Paulson said the Opheim area was attractive for wind energy production not only due to the consistent wind activity, but also because it is relatively unpopulated.
“That’s one attraction to the area, to know that you’re not bumping up against a large population base like you might see in other parts of Montana or in other states,” he said.
One consideration that other potential wind farm sites would not have to contend with is military flights. The air space around Opheim is included within the Montana Air National Guard’s training routes. Paulson said Compass Energies has worked closely with MANG to ensure the construction of turbines standing in excess of 260-feet would pose no danger to military aircraft.
“We’ve actually gotten Federal Aviation Administration determinations of ‘no hazard’ for preliminary location,” he said. “We feel fine about any other use of the air space by the Department of Defense, the MANG and others.”
Paulson said Compass Energies must finalize negotiations for the sale of Opheim Wind Farm electricity before midfall or risk missing out on federal renewable energy tax credits that will make construction of the project possible. Those tax credits are set to expire at the end of 2013, and Congress has not yet indicated its intention to extend or abandon the program. Paulson said that if the tax credits are not extended, industry analysts predict wind farm start-ups like the one at Opheim will likely drop off by 50 to 80 percent.
“Anything that starts in 2014 is a big question right now,” he said. “We’ll have to know by early to midfall in order to proceed with financing, procurement of turbines, and some engineering so we can do what needs to get done by December 31 to qualify for the federal tax credits.”
“If Congress completely abandons the technology there could be a lot of standstill in the renewable energy industry in 2014,” Paulson added.
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