A young company based in Denver is trying to start its second wind farm in Montana. Compass Energies is negotiating to find a market for the energy it hopes to generate from up to 13 turbines placed on about 1,400 acres it has leased from four landowners south of Opheim.
Kyle Paulson, development director for Compass Energies, explained the $40 million project to about 20 people at Glasgow High School on Tuesday night.
The turbines would generate up to 23 megawatts of power, but before anything is built, a number of interconnected things have to come to favorable conclusions. The buyer (called an offtaker) has to want their power at the price they can make it. The local owner of transmission infrastructure, NorVal, has to agree to move the power. Permits for water, wetlands and roads must be obtained.
Compass Energies hopes the county commissioners will grant them a partial tax abatement so the price they can offer the power buyer is more attractive.
Paulson said there is lots of competition for this opportunity to create and sell wind energy.
“Every way we can minimize cost, the more likely it is we can come to an agreement with the power buyer,” he said.
A public hearing on the tax abatement is scheduled at the Opheim School next Tuesday.
The benefits this wind farm offers to the county include new tax revenue, increased economic activity during construction, royalties to the landowners, a renewable energy harvest and payments to NorVal to move the power, which benefits the whole co-op.
The landowners can continue their previous farming and ranching operations after the turbines are in place.
Paulson did not tout new jobs, because after the construction, when 65 to 85 people would be involved, there would only be one or two people needed occasionally, and they might come over from another project.
Although Valley County has no zoning that applies to this project, the company is discussing a development agreement with the county to determine details such as setbacks from houses and decommissioning of the turbines at the end of their useful life. Turbines are usually placed no closer than 1,200 feet from residences, Paulson said, because of the noise they make.
The company has been collecting data on the wind on this site for almost two years. They have determined that the big turbines will not interfere with aviation at Opheim’s grass strip, nor with a military training route used by aircraft from Malmstrom AFB. There is no great danger to birds or bats, although there is always some loss, Paulson said. The site does not interfere with any microwave beam paths.
As a positive, they have charted regular wind activity at almost the opposite times of day that are common for the big Judith Gap wind farm, making this project useful to fill in down times in production.
Other reasons for the choice of the Opheim site are good wind, good access to interconnection points and minimal constraints from humans or wildlife.
If negotiations with the potential buyer succeed, construction could begin by mid or late fall. The turbines would be erected next summer. Power collection lines would be buried.
Compass Energies’ previous project was the Spion Kop project, 25 wind turbines making 40 MW of energy in Judith Basin County near Geyser and Raynesford. The project was started in 2009 and was sold in November 2012 to NorthWestern Energy.
Paulson said the company has chosen a niche to build smaller utility-scale projects locally integrated into existing transmission and distribution infrastructure. Their strategy is to work with local co-ops and municipal utilities that have transmission infrastructure, and to produce between 10 and 50 MW of electricity.