By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A workshop on wind energy that almost didn't happen surpassed everyone's expectations for attendance Wednesday, with people spilling into the hallway outside the Triangle Telephone Cooperative-Hill County Electric hospitality room.
"This is absolutely amazing," said Timlynn Babitsky, who helped bring the seminar to Havre. "I believe we are sending a very strong message to the rest of the state that we care about wind power."
Havre was the third of four stops for the workshop, held Tuesday in Billings and Glendive, and then moved on to Great Falls after the Havre presentation. It presented information about provisions in the 2002 Farm Bill to help ag producers and others buy equipment to use wind power.
The Havre and Glendive stops were added after enough interest was shown by residents. The Montana Wind Working Group, one of the sponsors of the workshop, initially thought bringing the out-of-state speakers to those extra locations may not be worth the effort and expense.
The turnout Wednesday showed ample local interest.
"I think this is literally more people than the Billings and Glendive workshops combined," Secretary of State Bob Brown said before introducing the first speaker.
Babitsky, executive director of the North American Rural Futures Institute in Havre, said the workshop in Billings drew about 40 people, and Glendive and Great Falls each drew 50 people.
About 230 people attended the Havre workshop, including farmers and ranchers, residents of Hutterite colonies, small-business owners, and representatives of local tribal governments, economic development associations, social services programs, and city and county governments.
Brown, a candidate for governor and a former legislator, has long advocated using alternative energy in the state. In recent years he founded the Montana Wind Working Group and, last spring, sponsored a three-day bus tour of facilities involved with researching, producing and using biodiesel and other alternative fuels and alternative energy.
Brown said during the Havre workshop that although Montana is the fifth-windiest state in the nation, wind energy is largely undeveloped here. He said he expects that to change.
"I think it's going to happen because economic factors will make it happen," he said.
Brown predicted that in the future many Montana farms and ranches will have wind generators and be able to generate income from them.
If wind-power systems can be connected to the power grid, the users can get a credit on their monthly power bill for the power generated, possibly eliminating the monthly bill entirely. The users can potentially sell excess energy back to the power company as well, although that requires more complex agreements.
If the location doesn't have access to the power grid, the wind turbine can be part of a system to provide all of the location's electricity.
Arlo Skari of Chester said so much information was covered at the workshop that it was a little confusing, but that the session was worth attending.
"I was quite impressed with the information given out here today," he said.
Skari added that the contact information and Web sites the presenters gave will be very helpful to find out more about installing wind turbines.
Dick Granell, who lives northeast of Havre, said he is interested in using wind power, but needs to do more research first.
"It all depends on what it costs a guy," he said.
He said he may apply for financial help mentioned at the workshop, like the Farm Bill program or a state loan for installing alternative energy.
Gary Cady from Joplin said he thinks all the work involved in applying for the programs might be worthwhile for a large system for a community or large business but not for a small home-based system.
If someone were installing a smaller system, like one costing $20,000, "It's probably just easier to do it on your own," he said.
Richard Small, Economic Development Administration planner at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, said the tribal government is researching how to create its own public energy commission to provide electricity and other services to the reservation and surrounding area.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe plans to use wind power along with other sources like solar energy to provide energy, Small said.
The featured speakers at the workshop were Larry Flowers of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., John Guthmiller of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Lisa Daniels of the Minnesota nonprofit wind energy information organization Windustry.
Flowers said the Farm Bill program for alternative energy is intended to help people get started in using alternative energy.
If the wind is available in sufficient quantity enough of the time, the turbine will eventually pay for itself. But the initial cost of the turbine can be fairly high.
Flowers said turbines used to power a single home or small business like a farm or ranch are small, generally up to 10 kilowatts maximum production. The purchase price for the turbines cost about $3,000 to $5,000 a kilowatt.
That's what the Farm Bill program and other help, like Montana's tax credits and loan program, help defray, he said.
"It's about trying to help rural folks and rural businesses utilize wind energy. It's about buying down the initial costs," he said.
Daniels, who helped start wind projects in Minnesota and Iowa, said the projects take work and patience in applying for help to pay the initial cost, in planning and building the project, and in waiting for the system to pay for itself.
"It does take time. It takes persistence," she said. "It's a smart move to put together a team to work on the project."
Daniels added that when "neighbors are together or communities are together, the best projects come out of those efforts, the ones that get on the ground."
She said the forms for the Farm Bill program are "burdensome, at best," but that there is help to fill them out correctly.
Van Jamison of the Montana Wind Working Group said there is a lot of help available.
"There is a tremendous amount of resources here in Montana that can help you," he said.
Flowers said the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a staff of people who put on workshops about specific aspects of installing wind turbines and using wind energy. He offered to send people to Havre to put on the workshops.
"We'll send one of our guys up here to do that if that's what the community wants," Flowers said. "We'd be happy to come back and talk about wind."
On the Net: Wind Powering America: www.eere.energy.gov/windpoweringamerica
Montana Department of Environmental Quality renewable energy site: www.deq.state.mt.us/energy/Renewable
North American Rural Futures Institute: www.norfi.org
National Center for Appropriate Technology: www.ncat.org