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Workshop on Wind Power Draws Big Turnout

By Tim Leeds
Reprinted from the 5 February 2004 edition of the Havre Daily News. Photos and captions added by NARFI.

SRO at the Wind Workshop in Havre...
NARFI photo, 2004
It was standing room only and then some at the USDA Farm Bill Wind Workshop sponsored by NARFI in Havre! About 250 people filled the community room and adjacent spaces at the Hill County Electric Co-op. Folks spilled into hallways and nearby conference rooms as creative can-do co-op employees rounded up a sound system and portable speakers to pipe the audio of the presentations to those who couldn't squeeze into the main room.

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.

USDA Farm Bill presentation was one among many at the Havre workshop...
NARFI graphic, 2004
USDA Farm Bill presentation was one among many at the Havre Wind Power workshop. NARFI has gathered these presentations together and produced HTML (standard web pages) and PDF (a portable document file format) versions of each. You can access these presentation through the NARFI Resource Directory as well as by document links at the bottom of this page.

"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.

SRO at the Wind Workshop in Havre...
NARFI photo, 2004
A dedicated crew of folks passionately committed to wind power and alternative energy were the presenters at the USDA Farm Bill Workshop of Wind Power in Havre. Left to right they are: Timlynn Babitsky, Director of NARFI; Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown; Van Jamison, Coordinator of Montana Wind Working Group; John Guthmiller, USDA Business and Co-op Services; Lisa Daniels, Windustry Inc.; Larry Flowers, NREL Wind Powering America.

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.

Soon after the Wind Workshop, Chester dedicated its first turbine...
NARFI photo, 2004
Soon after the Wind Workshop, the town of Chester of northcentral Montana dedicated its first turbine. This exciting project did not happen as a result of the workshop; it was well underway by the time the workshop was presented. But this is a 'first mover' example of the growing interest in wind energy as a 'renewal crop' to be harvested along the Hi-Line. It is safe to say, however, that the success of the wind workshop helped to bring an astounding number, more than seventy folks, to Chester's dedication ceremony for their new turbine shown here before being raised to catch its first breeze.

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.

SRO at the Wind Workshop in Havre...
NARFI photo, 2004
A Huge Thank You to the Can-Do Employees at the Hill County Electric Co-op! – It truly was standing room only at the NARFI-sponsored Wind Power Workshop as shown here. We knew we were going to have a mega-successful event when folks started filling the entry hall into the meeting room. Eventually, this area filled to capacity and folks spilled over into other hallways and a nearby conference room. At left you can see one of the speakers for the portable sound system that the Co-op employees rounded up and installed 'on the fly' as the workshop kept growing. In addition to providing emergency supplemental sound, HCE co-op employees rolled office chairs into the common areas to help make folks welcome and comfortable for the workshop.

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:

Copyright © 2004 The Havre Daily News

Behind the Story and More Information

This above story is reprinted from the 5 February 2004 edition of the Havre Daily News. This article (minus the photos and their captions added by NARFI) is available on-line at the newspaper's web site.

Tim Leeds and Timlynn Babitsky during our visit to Ted Demontiney's off-the-grid log home with its hybrid alternative energy system
J.F. Salmons, © 2003
Havre Daily News reporter Tim Leeds and NARFI's Timlynn Babitsky were information sponges during their visit to Ted Demontiney's off-the-grid log home with its hybrid alternative energy system that combines wind and solar energy. For more on this related article, including many interesting photos by HDN's Amber Rose D'Hooge and NARFI, please read Tim Leeds' 'Living with the Land' article reprint here on the NARFI web site.

For more information about the Hi-Line's oldest and largest daily paper, we encourage you to read their mission statement. Go here for subscription information.

Also, NARFI and the Hi-Line community are most grateful and appreciative of the Hill County Electric Cooperative for providing us use of the community meeting room for the USDA Farm Bill Wind Power Workshop. We were shooting for a minimum attendance of 25 people and hoping for about 50 or 60. When more than 250 folks showed up, we were hard-pressed to handle the crowd. The co-op employees saw the situation and swung into action immediately. We cannot thank them enough for the generous support they gave us. The Hill County Electric Co-op shares in the success of this event in every way. Thank you.

In addition to the links provided above in Tim Leeds' HDN article, read the NARFI Resource Directory page about Wind Power.

If you'd like to know exactly what was covered in the USDA Farm Bill Wind Power Workshop, here is a list of links to web versions of four of the workshop presentations:

The title links above will open an HTML-based version of the presentation in your browser. The PDF version links require an Adobe Acrobat Reader or Acrobat browser plug-in.

The story above starts with "A workshop on wind energy that almost didn't happen...," for more insights about this, read Tim Leeds' related story 'Institute trying to bring wind power meeting to the Hi-Line' at the Havre Daily News web site. NARFI wishes to thank the HDN for its recognition of the potential economic and environmental importance of wind and alternative energy as these will impact their readers along the Hi-Line. Their editorial coverage of these topics has been instrumental in raising the public and community leaders awareness of renewable energy.

As further evidence of this growing public and local government awareness and interest in wind energy, check out these stories at the Havre Daily News web site:

  • Mayor Rice interested in wind power
    Havre Mayor Bob Rice is investigating the possibility of installing a wind turbine at Havre's water plant to save the city money on its energy bills. "I'm thinking we'll try for one and see how it works out, see if it's successful," Rice said last we...
  • Wind power draws crowd in Chester
    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 bl...
  • Wind power potential obvious on the Hi-Line
    We don't know how many people noticed the train full of wind turbine blades that paused in Havre Friday afternoon. It took two railroad cars to haul each massive blade. We couldn't help wonder why Havre wasn't their destination. One thing Havre has p...
  • Energy group targets power transmission needs
    HELENA - Building generation plants to feed off Montana's wealth of coal, wind or gas is pointless without the transmission lines to carry electricity to power-hungry markets in other states, a group of energy industry leaders agreed Thursday. They...
  • Teams return for follow-up meetings
    Members of resource assessment teams that visited Hill County and Harlem last fall will return next week to help communities set priorities for future projects. Meetings will also be held for one-year reviews of projects identified by teams that visited...

As the above news stories suggest, northcentral Montana is poised to begin reaping economic benefit by harvesting a new renewable 'crop' that is just over our heads, but not out of reach.