Wind power operation is planned for Judith Gap Big Sandy farmer, German power experts team up for $180 million project
A Big Sandy farmer and German wind power experts announced plans Thursday for a $180 million wind energy operation on the plains near Judith Gap.
WindPark Solutions America hopes to land a contract in March to supply power to NorthWestern Energy, an achievement that would trigger the start of construction this year, they said.
"This is a great opportunity for Montana to benefit from more than 20 years of wind energy development in Germany," Bob Quinn, of Big Sandy, one of the company’s founders, said at a Capitol news conference where plans were unveiled.
Secretary of State Bob Brown, who has advocated wind-power development on state land, praised the project. "This is just the beginning of what could be a great and important industry in Montana," he said.
Quinn, who has teamed with German partners Georg von Wedel and Jorg Beland, said the plan calls for using parts of eight sections — 5,120 acres — in Wheatland County.
That site was selected after about 18 months of monitoring the winds that sweep across the ridges from the north and west, he said.
Quinn said Montana was a logical spot for the project because studies have shown it to be the second windiest state. Beland said Montana has more wind than almost any place in Europe.
Beland and von Wedel, who is a distant relative of Quinn, were looking for places to develop wind energy outside Germany. Beland is a wind-power engineer, and von Wedel is involved in financing, Quinn said.
Beland said leasing is almost complete for the seven tracts of private land and one section of state land that will accommodate up to 120 turbines.
Each one would stand 260 feet high and hold blades that are 130 feet long.
The state will get $40,000 a year from leasing its 640-acre section to the company and, once operating, the wind farm would have 10 to 15 full-time employees, the developers said. Construction is expected to take three to five years.
Beland said they are nearly ready to sign an agreement with NorthWestern that would allow connecting the wind farm to power lines running through the area.
Pat Corcoran, NorthWestern’s vice president for regulatory affairs in Butte, said WindPark is one of 18 parties expressing interest in competing for contracts to supply some of the utility’s electrical needs to serve 300,000 customers.
The utility solicited proposals at the end of December, and Feb. 14 is the deadline for final bids, he said. The company will pare the list by March 10 and make a decision on who gets wind power contracts by March 27.
Corcoran said Thursday’s announcement by WindPark officials has no bearing on NorthWestern’s decision. The utility will evaluate all proposals based on information provided in the formal bids.
Quinn said if NorthWestern doesn’t choose the WindPark project, he’s confident the company can find other buyers for its electricity.
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