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Great Falls Tribune
June 2, 2012

Jobs blow in with wind farms

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles about businesses and industries introduced or with significant growth in northcentral Montana in the past decade.

 Next month the Tribune looks at the Great Falls operations of the medical processing company, Centene.

A decade ago wind energy proposals in Montana were working to attract investors.

Today commercial wind parks have the capacity for 397.9 megawatts of electricity generation and two parks, Rim Rock in Toole and Glacier counties, and Spion Kop, between Geyser and Raynesford, with combined capacity to generate another 229 megawatts of electricity, are under construction now.

Wind parks in the state paid $3.97 million in property taxes alone in Montana in 2011, according to the Department of Revenue. Impact fees paid during construction to counties and other entities provide additional revenue to local governments.

Conservative estimates are that every 10 megawatts of generation in a commercial wind park equals one permanent job, although the state's largest wind park, NaturEner's Glacier in Glacier and Toole counties, has 40 employees.

One is Jeff Barbee, 28, a quality assurance technician who is also in charge of the safety program.

Originally from Missoula, Barbee earned a wind technician certificate in California after earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana. His goal was to gain a skill that would land him a job in Montana.

"I went on a networking road trip on the West Coast, stopped in the NaturEner's office in San Francisco for an interview and was hired for my job here two years ago," said Barbee. "I like this career, the work, but it also allows me to live here and enjoy the open spaces, the mountains and rivers.. I would call our company an economic stimulus."

Nowhere is that more evident right now in the state than just north of Glacier Wind Park, where NaturEner is in the midst of construction on Rim Rock Wind Park, which will have the capacity to generate 189 megawatts of electricity. Crews started erecting the 126 turbines this week. There are 261 workers on site now.

"Some of our crew members do work that is a specialized craft and they tend to travel where the work is," said Greg Copeland, director of wind energy development for NaturEner. "But a lot of our subcontractors employ local people.

"Of the $400 million investment in the project, about 35 percent is being spent with Montana companies and property owners, with 20 percent in northcentral Montana."


To continue reading the Great Falls Tribune article, click here:

Wind and Sun -- Montana's Next Economic Boom

To learn more about the untapped potential of Montana's abundant, clean, sustainable wind and solar energy resources, CHARGE!


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