“We have incredible potential for wind energy.”
– Gov. Steve Bullock, at the first ever Montana Wind Forum, sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association, on Sept. 9 in Bozeman.
To date, Montana has developed 665 megawatts (MW) of wind energy, supporting hundreds of well-paying jobs in the state and creating $1.2 billion in capital investment. Montana landowners currently receive approximately $2 million annually in land lease payments, and wind energy provided 6.5 percent of all electricity production in the state in 2014. Nationally, wind supplies nearly 5 percent of electricity in the U.S. today.
However, according to new data released in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States,” wind energy can grow to supply 10 percent of the U.S. electricity energy mix by 2020, on its way to supplying 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050.
Achieving DOE’s Wind Vision targets can have big, near-term benefits for Montana.
Calculations by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) using DOE’s Wind Vision data show that by 2030, wind energy deployment in Montana can increase to 16,000 MW of installed capacity. Much of that wind energy development would be developed as an energy export for the state.
Sixteen thousand MW of installed wind capacity by 2030 would support thousands of highly skilled operations and maintenance jobs at Montana wind farms. Land lease payments to Montana’s agricultural landowners would grow to over $51 million a year. Annual property tax revenue to state and local governments would equal over $126 million.
Such a boom in wind energy would rival the gold rush ambitions that gave Montana its state motto, “Oro y Plata.” But, while wind energy is a natural resource as sure as anything that can be found in the ground, it also has a number of unique characteristics that make it a very attractive resource for development.
First, wind energy is low cost. According to the DOE 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report, the price for long-term wind energy contracts are competitive with traditional fuels, making wind a stable, low-cost energy resource for utilities and corporate purchasers of energy.
Second, Montana’s wind energy is renewable and reliable, with no boom and bust from on-again, off-again resource extraction. Once a wind farm is constructed, average yearly production is steady and the resource is naturally renewing.
Third, wind projects provide local communities with stable economic benefits in the form of land lease payments and property tax revenues. Once constructed, wind farms typically operate for a period of 20 to 25 years, giving communities and local governments the ability to plan with certainty around jobs and taxes. As wind projects reach the end of their operating life, they can be retooled, reconstructed, or decommissioned, but local communities know what to expect.
Fourth, wind energy can actually help Montana achieve required greenhouse gas reductions. Wind energy is not only carbon emissions free, it also saves millions of gallons of water that would otherwise be used to cool fossil fuel plants, an increasingly important benefit as drought worsens in the West. Last year, Montana avoided the use of over 930 million gallons of water through wind energy. Like all forms of energy, wind energy can have some impacts to wildlife, but the industry is committed to ensuring abundant populations of wildlife, including eagles, bats and sage grouse. And of course wind energy is a major solution to climate change, the largest threat of all to bird and bat species.
Finally, wind energy works to benefit and reinforce Montana’s number one industry, agriculture. Nearly 99 percent of wind farms are located on private, largely agricultural land. Since cows don’t mind eating grass under the turning blades of a wind turbine and farmers can plow and cultivate their land right up to the tower base, wind energy lease payments actually help make agriculture producers more profitable and resilient.
DOE’s Wind Vision is a bold but achievable roadmap for increasing wind energy utilization around the nation, and one that would bring benefits to Montana. As our nation’s electric grid continues to modernize and become ever cleaner and more efficient, wind energy can help Montana achieve economic prosperity.