Are energy answers blowing in the wind?
For years now, renewable energy opportunities have occupied a front row seat at agricultural forums. We have studied, promoted and educated about alternative energy – everything from on-the-farm biofuel crops and fuel production to landowner developed wind energy.
Montana Farmers Union is very interested in wind energy opportunities for rural Montana, and in particular, the potential benefits of community or landowner driven wind projects. While any wind development can diversify the local economy and bring jobs and extra income to land owners, community or landowner developed wind intentionally seeks to optimize local benefits.
For a project to be locally owned, community members must have a direct financial stake in the project beyond just land leases or local tax revenue.
The first question to be answered is should a landowner negotiate a lease with a large wind developer, or should a group of neighbors, for example, explore the possibility of taking charge of their own destiny.
Local efforts can take a lot of time and be difficult. Community projects are often first time projects in an area and require significant capacity building. Sometimes they can’t take full advantage of economies of scale. Some government tax incentives favor commercial or industrial development over community. And even organizing many investors can be a large administrative task.
If the challenges can be addressed, studies have shown that direct local investment in a project can bring significantly higher returns than wages or lease payments.
Frequently we are asked if at least some of Montana’s energy answer is blowing in the wind. While there is no one right answer, a variety of groups in Montana either are exploring or have succeeded in wind development including individuals, small business owners, farmers, local governments, schools and Native American tribes. Some of this wind is being developed for specific local uses and other for export to western urban centers.
Last week we were pleased to announce our collaboration with Agri Energy LLC, a utility-scale landowner-driven community wind project. We worked with Agri Energy’s initial five founding landowners through the visioning stages of a landowner wind project.
Also last week in Chester we kicked off the first-in-a-series of community meetings to introduce the project and its process to other Montana landowners. These workshops will help landowners explore their options related to the wind resources on their land. Agri Energy partners want to be able to share their experience so that others across the state can shorten the learning curve and benefit from their experience.
The other partner in this educational effort is Praxis Energy Group LLC, a research and economic development strategy company that works with economic development organizations, universities, agriculture producers and industries as well as innovators in science and technology to create sustainable enterprise opportunities. Based in North Dakota, Praxis Energy Group has recently completed successful landowner driven wind projects.
The Chester meeting focused specifically on ways rural landowners and community leaders can reap the economic benefits from their wind resources. And, it addressed the many questions and opportunities available for wind generation in Montana.
You can look for more
workshop opportunities after harvest.