By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
CHESTER - About 75 people gathered Tuesday for the dedication of a wind turbine that supplies power to a Liberty County shop. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough wind to turn the rotor blades.
"As soon as everybody leaves, the wind's going to start blowing, so you might want to go about a mile, then turn around and come back," Liberty County Commissioner Don Marble joked at the end of the dedication.
The dedication, attended by about 75 people, including state and local officials, was used as a showcase for what wind power could accomplish in Montana.
Marble spearheaded the project of installing the turbine for the county, which has been in operation about a month.
The turbine is connected to the power grid and supplies electricity to the county shop. If it produces more electricity than the shop needs, the power is transmitted into the grid and the shop's power meter runs backward, giving the county a credit on its electric bill.
Chester residents said they support the county using alternative energy, although some are not sure if it will save much money.
"It'll never pay for itself," Richard Buker said, adding that "philosophically, I'm very interested in energy sources that don't use fuel we can't replace."
He noted that the area's usually plentiful wind has been in short supply since the turbine was installed.
County Commission Chairman Russ Tempel said the turbine, which was funded by grants, was not intended to save the county large amounts of money but rather is intended as a demonstration of wind power for area residents.
The Rev. Waveland King, pastor of the Chester United Methodist Church, said he thinks everyone needs to pursue every kind of renewable energy they can.
Small Montana communities seem to hear mostly depressing news, like population decline and budget problems, King said.
"To have something that's forward-looking, it's kind of refreshing," he said.
King's wife, Stacey King, said she thinks the wind will return to normal levels and the turbine will start producing more electricity.
"We've had a drought of rain. I doubt we'll get a drought of wind," she said.
At the start of the dedication, people watched Tony Boniface of Independent Power Systems in Bozeman, who supervised the installation of the turbine, run a check on the equipment.
The turbine sits on an 80-foot-tall tower that can be lowered to the ground. The county uses a Caterpillar tractor to lower the tower.
Boniface said the only moving parts besides the rotors are hinges for the tail and the main mount, which allow the turbine to adjust itself to the wind.
"Everybody likes to make their own power. This is one good way to do it," he said.
Boniface said the turbine has an expected life of 30 years, but if it is well-maintained it could easily last much longer than that.
Members of several groups that helped with the Liberty County project or are involved in promoting wind power were at the dedication.
Jessica Gail Raker of Northwest SEED, one of the sponsors of the project, said it is one of 10 wind turbines being installed to, in part, collect data about wind power.
The Chester turbine automatically records wind speed, the electricity produced and the temperature.
Northwest SEED is one of the founders of the Washington state-based Our Wind Co-op, which helped install the Chester turbine, two other turbines in Montana and two in Washington. Raker said Northwest SEED expects to have five more, possibly including a couple more in Montana, installed by the end of this year as part of the project.
The data is sent to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, which provided grants for the project.
"We want to look all over the country to see how these things work," she said.
Marble said the county has received grants for most of the project's cost, which was about $45,000. The grants include $12,500 from the National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte, $10,000 from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, $5,000 from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and a $6,000 loan from the Bonneville Power Foundation, which will be paid off through the sale of green tags.
Green tags are sold by various organizations, including the Bonneville Power Administra-tion, to people who want to promote alternative energy.
Jess Alger, who ranches near Stanford, installed one of the three Montana turbines in the Our Wind Co-op project. He said at the dedication that he is now working with Geyser High School to plan the installation of wind turbines for the school.
Alger, whose turbine has been operating since September, said in an interview that his electric bills were about $190 to $200 a month before he installed the turbine. Last month he paid $4.60, and that was to pay for someone to come out and read his meter, he said.
On the Net: Montana renewable energy site: www.montanagreenpower.org
Our Wind Co-op: www.ourwind.org
North American Rural Futures Institute: www.narfi.org