By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A local cooperative is testing the water for wind power, and will loan its tester out to co-op members when it is done.
"We're doing this to educate the members," said Rollie Miller of Hill County Electric Cooperative.
Hill County Electric installed an anemometer next to its office west of Havre on Dec. 11 to measure the wind. Miller said that after the wind is measured at the site for nine to 12 months, the co-op will decide whether to install a turbine to provide power at the office.
Once the co-op is done testing the wind, it will loan the anemometer out to its members so they can test the wind on their properties, Miller said.
"Our board wants to be very proactive in supporting wind generation and in educating our members about wind generation," he said.
Wind power has been a hot topic on the Hi-Line for the last few years. A workshop at the Triangle Telephone/Hill County Electric office in February drew more than 230 people to learn about using wind power and about financial help available to buy and install turbines.
Miller said testing the amount of wind with an anemometer is usually the first step in seeing if wind power will work.
"You have to know what the potential is for wind," he said.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said Bear Paw has received many inquiries about wind power since the February workshop. Those have come both from individuals and from communities, he said, "people who want to take advantage of the wind we have in northern Montana."
He said communities are looking at using wind turbines to supply power to publicly owned facilities like city halls, museums, schools and water plants. That would drive down expenses at a time of increasing power costs.
"That's a clear but direct benefit to taxpayers and residents," Tuss said.
Liberty County did just that this year. In January it finished installing a wind turbine to power its county shop.
"It's been doing remarkably well," said Russ Tempel, chairman of the Liberty County Commission.
Tempel said that when the county installed the turbine, primarily as a showcase project for the county and the state, the commission expected it to provide 30 percent to 50 percent of the power used in the shop. It has averaged closer to 60 percent, he said.
Tempel added that installing the turbine seems to have had an added benefit, which may be part of the savings. Workers at the shop are doing more to conserve power.
"We're a little more aware of what we're using now. I think the people out there are a little more in tune with how to save electricity," he said.
The county is using net metering. If the turbine produces more energy than is used by the shop, the excess is put back into the electrical grid and the county is given credit on its monthly bill.
Liberty County has purchased and installed seven anemometers to map out the wind power capability in the county. Four of those are mounted on 20-foot-tall towers, two on 30-foot-tall towers and one on a 50-foot-tall tower.
"The 20s are good for what is called 'prospecting for wind,'" he said.
Unless the wind has been tested by anemometers on at least a 30-foot-tall tower, companies won't even consider building a wind farm, Tempel said. The anemometers on shorter towers can be used to see where further testing should be done.
Georgia Brensdal of the state Department of Environmental Quality said anemometers that people can borrow are hard to come by. DEQ has eight anemometers and they are all in use, she said.
"We have a waiting list. There probably is more demand than there is supply," she said.
Some of the programs to help fund installing wind turbines require testing by an anemometer before they will approve an application; others don't, Brensdal said.
A program in the 2002 Farm Bill administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development requires extensive testing, but the Alternative Energy Loan Program administered by DEQ can grant loans without using an anemometer, she said.
Tuss said knowing how much wind is available is an important step.
"It's easy to say, in northern Montana, 'Boy, we've got a lot of wind,' but is it consistent?" he said.