Views on wind farm sought
VICTOR ADY/Gazette Staff

BIG TIMBER - Travelers driving Interstate 90 west of Big Timber may one day glimpse wind turbines at the Coyote Wind project.

But well in advance of that day, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is seeking comments on the proposal that would occupy a state school section roughly 11 miles west of Big Timber, four miles northeast of Springdale and two miles north of Interstate 90 and the Yellowstone River.

Details remain sketchy as New Jersey-based Alternity Wind Power conducts a feasibility study on its proposed project. Todd Martin, vice president of business development for Alternity, said the size of the project - both the number and size of turbines and the amount of power to be generated - has not been established.

"It really depends on what happens with the state land," he said, "and trying to determine how many turbines can fit with the environmental aspects of it."

Jeff Bollman, area planner for the DNRC, said the most recent study projected six or seven 2-megawatt turbines on the 640-acre school trust section. However, the proposed Coyote Wind project also encompasses two privately owned properties that would host additional turbines.

Bollman said the DNRC is trying to address any concerns upfront. Since the development of Montana's first major wind farm in Judith Gap, the public has become more engaged in the process, he said. A public hearing on the proposal, set for 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Carnegie Library in Big Timber, marks one of the first steps in preparing an environmental-impact statement on the proposed project.

"That way, when we do get into the EIS, we're looking at the right areas and so at the end there aren't issues we hadn't anticipated," Bollman said.

Alternity is aware that a prairie dog town on the east side of the property serves as a prime source of prey for raptors. Martin said the company will be sensitive to that and any other environmental concerns.

He said turbines would be visible but not obvious from Interstate 90.

"You won't see them unless you really look for them," he said.

Alternity Wind Power, an affiliate of the Conti Group, is also assessing the proposal's marketability. Although the state boasts a wealth of wind, Martin said, the problem is transmitting that power out of state.

He said the company is hoping to contract with one of the large utility companies in the Pacific Northwest.

The school section being considered for the Coyote Wind project ranked high as a potential wind power site following a 2002 statewide analysis. The site not only boasts wind but is strategically located near transmission lines. If selected for a wind farm, the state trust would benefit from lease revenues.

The Coyote Wind project represents the first wind power project for Alternity. However, Martin said, the company has other projects in the due-diligence stage.

He adds that the company looks at the public hearing as an opportunity to introduce its staff to the public. Emphasizing Alternity's "team approach," he said the company hopes to develop a wind farm that can benefit all parties involved. As the project takes shape, there will be more meetings in Big Timber for public input, he said.