By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A local institute wants to know if people are interested in using wind to offset their power bills.
"Small landowners have an opportunity here to decrease energy use and cost and a chance to generate income," said Timlynn Babitsky, executive director of the North American Rural Futures Institute in Havre.
Babitsky said there are many sources of grants and loans to pay for installation of wind turbines to generate electricity. One of those is a provision in the 2002 Farm Bill to provide funding for alternative energy for farmers, ranchers and rural businesses through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Montana Wind Working Group, which consists of representatives of electricity consumers, businesses and the state government, decided Oct. 30 to hold workshops in January in Billings and Great Falls for ag producers, Babitsky said. The workshops will educate producers about how to apply for the Farm Bill money to build alternative energy projects.
The paperwork required for applying can be intimidating, she said, and the workshops will tell people what they need to apply. There will be a six-week opportunity, probably starting in February or March, to apply for the money, Babitsky said.
She said she suggested holding a third workshop on the Hi-Line.
"I said, 'Where's the wind? You have to make things a little closer for people on the Hi-Line,'" she said.
Since representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy and Wind Powering America, a DOE initiative to support and promote using wind power, will be coming from outside of Montana, she has to demonstrate that enough people on the Hi-Line are interested to make the extra trip worthwhile, she said.
Babitsky said that if at least 25 people are interested, she might be able to make a case for the Hi-Line meeting. The more she can show will attend, the stronger her case, she said.
Babitsky said using wind power should interest many people. Small wind turbines can provide a credit on the owner's electric bill.
"For the farmer and rancher, you can decrease and possibly eliminate your electric bill," Babitsky said.
She said if a large enough system is created, the electricity it generates could be sold back to power companies, although that involves negotiating agreements with the companies.
Large systems would also stimulate the economy, she said.
"It could provide employment opportunities and increase the tax base," Babitsky said.
For someone to receive a credit or be able to sell power back to the companies, the turbine would have to be located close to a power grid. Babitsky said people who aren't close enough to a power grid generally need to use a hybrid, self-contained system to provide the entire power supply, such as through a combination of wind and solar power.
The USDA funding could provide a large amount of capital for people on the Hi-Line to build wind power facilities. Babitsky said that in 2003, USDA distributed $21.7 million to 114 projects in 24 states. Eligible projects include wind power, solar power and other renewable sources.
Interest in using alternative energy in Montana has been growing. Secretary of State Bob Brown last spring sponsored a bus tour that included wind energy facilities and biodiesel research facilities.
Liberty County is installing a turbine to power a county shop, and the Anchor Academy north of Havre uses two turbines to power its school.
Our Wind Cooperative, based in Washington state, is helping Liberty County set up its turbine. It also helped ranchers Jess Alger near Stanford and Doug Nelson near East Glacier set up turbines for their operations.
Alger said in October his turbine was up and running and his electrical meter was rolling backward.
"That's what I like to see," he said.
Babitsky has contacted several organizations and agencies in the area to find out how much interest there is in holding the workshop, but that she hopes more people will contact her directly. She said she needs to tell Montana Wind if there is enough interest to plan a workshop when she goes to its next meeting Dec. 2.
Babitsky can be reached at 265-6354.