GREAT FALLS (AP)
Construction of the state's largest wind farm is scheduled to begin this spring 85 miles north of here, Spain-based developer Naturener said. Naturener has chosen Mortenson Construction, based in Minnesota, as the general contractor. In the first phase, 69 towers capable of producing 103 megawatts will be erected in Toole County. The second phase includes land in Glacier County. Combined, the two phases will include 140 towers producing 210 megawatts. A single megawatt of wind power generates enough electricity for 250 to 300 homes. The project is smaller than originally planned but will still be larger than the 135-megawatt Judith Gap Energy Center, the state's sole utility-scale wind facility. "We expect to have both phases fully operational before the end of 2008," said Bill Alexander, Naturener's chief developer. Montana ranks 16th in the U.S. in wind production, according to the American Wind Energy Association. With construction of the Naturener farm, wind-powered electricity production will increase from 145 megawatts to 355. Coal-fired power plants account for 60 percent of the state's production capacity of 5,500 megawatts, followed by hydroelectric facilities. County and city leaders in north-central Montana say they expect additional jobs and tax revenue from the developing wind industry. "This is probably the largest economic development project ever in the Golden Triangle," Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud said. Some residents have voiced concern about the visual impact of the towers north of Great Falls on Montana's open landscape, Toole County Commissioner Allan Underdal said. "But we look at it as a way to make the wind in our area positive rather than a negative," he said. The project, informally called the McCormick wind farm, is the first of several wind projects that local officials hope will materialize along a proposed 203-mile-long transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta. But Alexander said the first two phases of the project are not dependent on construction of the new transmission because space is available on two existing lines. Construction will begin on private land southwest of Ethridge, between Cut Bank and Shelby, as soon as the ground thaws, Alexander said. The project will produce between 100 and 200 construction jobs and a dozen permanent jobs, Alexander said. Pay for the skilled labor positions will be "above average," he said. Naturener will receive property tax breaks for being a new business and a developer of renewable energy. A study commissioned by Toole County projected the wind farm would result in more than $27 million in tax revenue in the county over 20 years. Toole County also negotiated a $280,000-a-year impact fee that Naturener will pay for three years to offset road maintenance and law enforcement costs associated with construction.