Bozeman Daily Chronicle
News of the death of eastern Montana are premature. Yes, the kids are leaving small farms, ranches and small towns at an alarming rate, leaving just dwindling numbers of graying head behind.
But there are signs of life the ''big empty,'' sprouting not from the soil, but from the air moving over it - rapidly.
Work is slated to start this month on Montana's first major wind farm between Judith Gap and Harlowton. A Chicago firm, Invenergy, plans to have some 90 to 100 260-foot tall turbines constructed by the end of the year. Once completed the project is expected to supply 150-megawatts of power to NorthWestern Energy.
The best news to the people of Wheatland County, however, is not the production of power, but the 150 jobs the project is expected to provide during construction and the dozen or so permanent jobs the wind-power fields will require for its operation.
As small as that sounds in some circles, that is highly encouraging news in a part of the state that hasn't had much to celebrate economically for a long time. A Wheatland County commissioner says the wind farm will constitute the largest construction project in the county in some 30 years.
This should not be a flash in the pan.
Finding alternative energy sources must be part of any long-term national energy policy aimed at achieving independence from foreign oil. And unlike some alternative energy sources, like solar, tidal and hydrogen energy, wind is a proven cost-effective way to produce electricity.
Extensive wind-turbine operations have been operating successfully for a number of years in southern California. Also proven is Montana's abundance of wind -- especially in the eastern part of the state.
Wind energy is not without its drawbacks. It does mar the scenery and pose a threat to birds. But it is essentially a clean, renewable source of energy, the potential of which will only increase as the price of fossil fuels continues to rise.
State lawmakers and policy makers should pay careful attention to what's unfolding up by Harlowton and seek ways to encourage further wind-generation projects in other windy parts of the state.