The wind on this Eastern Montana’s plain was rising steadily like a tide on a recent winter afternoon, the cool thick air rolling in to replace what had been warmed by daylight. The 210-foot blades of the Clearwater Wind Project begin to revolve, and the difference is scarcely perceptible at first. Despite the fact that the blades have been feathered to catch none of the cool air, they nevertheless revolve.
According to Jess Melin, the location is ideal for what will be Montana’s largest windfarm. Melin is the executive director of renewable development at NextEra Energy Resources, and he is a Livingston native. The corporation advertises itself as the world’s largest wind and solar energy generator. This 750-megawatt behemoth is NextEra’s first project in Montana’s. “I’m a little biassed,” Melin tends to say before every statement on Eastern Montana’s.
Montana’s landowners can make money by leasing quarter-acre wind turbines. Clearwater’s payouts are estimated to total $226 million over the next 30 years. Each turbine, on the other hand, occupies around 50 square yards. Grazing and cropping are permitted on the land surrounding the turbines. Over the same time period, property taxes paid to Custer, Garfield, and Rosebud counties, where Clearwater is located, totaled $217 million.
The net capacity factor at this facility is around 40%, which means that the turbines are operating at maximum capacity about 40% of the time throughout the year. The first half of the project is expected to be completed in late 2022. Puget Sound Energy, a Colstrip investor, has signed a deal for the first 350 megawatts of Clearwater’s capacity.