Montana's Wind Farms

The folks around these parts get charged about wind farm developments. While cities argue over who gets the new wind turbine manufacturing plant, others deem wind power as more of a problem than a promise.

Conservation groups wonder about the wisdom of installing what many deem an eyesore and unnecessary infrastructure for a state that is already a net exporter of energy. Montana has seen some of the worst extractive mining and exploitation in the history of civilization. The people living in Montana are likely not going to be impressed with more foreign extraction of local resources.

Yet, as the toll of coal mining, power generation, and even industrial agriculture are realized, wind power may offer a route for Montana to find a compromise between extraction and conservation, securing a renewable energy future and a greening economy. But it likely will not go well without serious innovation and strategic planning.Montana has about 50 wind power projects in development with the potential to supply 4,000 megawatts of energy (assuming none of the wind turbines self destruct).

New transmission lines are currently in the planning phase that would greatly increase the capacity of utility scale wind power. Yet this centralized, transmission dependent energy grid is likely not a good model for sustainable development. As the distance between generation and use increases the infrastructure becomes more expensive and energy is lost during transmission. There is no single solution to this problem, but advances in energy storage technology, like storing wind energy by compressing air, could be used creatively to increase the value and reliability of wind energy.

The realization that Montana has great potential for wind power gives the local government and population the chance to innovate, and build expertise in wind power systems. Advances like the whale fin inspired blades, that increase efficiency by 20% could be applied to wind power generation. Understanding how to cultivate the land underneath wind turbines, creating silent wind turbines, or even studying the impact of wind turbines on eco-tourism are all opportunities for Montana to develop. As this technology matures, Montana has the opportunity to work as a testing ground, and innovation center for sustainable wind technology systems.

There are many beautiful resources in Montana, it is truly a wild land that should be preserved. Wind farms should be well thought out, in terms of ecological and social impact. Yet one of the resources that Montana can export without damage is innovation. There are worse things to develop in this world than wind farms, I would rather see a few more wind farms than more coal plants. But on the whole, I would rather see Montana invest in its people rather than exploit its resources. Wind power just might give Montana the chance to invest in itself, and preserve the future.

:: Missoulian
:: Helena Independent Record
:: Montana DNRC

Tags: Agriculture | Alternative Energy | Montana