SHAWMUT — A new wind farm on the ridges southeast of this tiny ranch town will begin spinning electricity for NorthWestern Energy customers by year’s end.

Goldwind Global, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of wind turbines, is erecting 14 wind turbines above Mud Creek. The first of the towers, each 246 feet tall, appeared on the horizon this month. Executives said the wind turbines, divided into two, 10-megawatt projects, will produce enough electricity to electrify 5,000 homes.

Thursday, Goldwind officials formally broke ground on the project with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, whom Goldwind CEO Tim Rosenzweig credited for attracting the green energy company in Montana.

“This is a contract project with NorthWestern Energy. We will sell to Northwestern for 25 years. The power will be bought at a fixed price, which is good for their customers,” Rosenzweig said.

Goldwind’s turbines are made in China, but the rest of the parts are from North America. The towers are built in Texas, and the windmill blades are crafted by U.S. companies, Rosenzweig said.

“The next step is to build a manufacturing facility in America,” Baucus said, applying some lighthearted pressure on his CEO host.

The Musselshell Wind Farm, as the Shawmut project is known, employs 75 construction workers and will put three wind farm workers in Shawmut permanently once the blades start turning.

Baucus said the property taxes collected from the Goldwind farm should bolster public schools and other local projects.

The financial lure to attracting Goldwind to Montana was the Federal Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit. The tax credit has played a role in each of the Montana wind projects rolled out in recent years. Baucus credited wind farms with creating 1,500 Montana jobs and bringing $1.5 billion in investment to the state.

Industry groups like the American Wind Energy Association say the tax credit, which costs the U.S. about $1 billion a year, helped U.S. wind energy production in August surpass 50,000 megawatts, enough to electrify 13 million homes. The tax credit has been active since 2005, but expires at year’s end.

The Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs, plays a key role in the tax credit's future. The committee in early August passed a bipartisan proposal to extend the tax credit into next year for projects starting construction in 2013. But the extension needs the support of the full Congress to succeed.

As some wind companies wait to see whether Congress will pass the extension during its lame-duck session during the final two months of the year, others are laying off workers. AWEA, intent on seeing the tax credit renewed, said last week that some 37,000 wind industry jobs could be lost in the first quarter of 2013 without the tax credit. Thousands of layoffs have already taken place.

Baucus said the wind energy business touches enough congressional districts that the tax credit should receive enough support.

“It will get extended, I think,” Baucus said. “Nothing is ever 100 percent, but I think it will.”


Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.