Organic farming is all about utilizing the natural resources around us. Some resources are found where we least expect them. But I believe it was this frame of mind: that nature provides precisely what we need if we are vigilant enough to look for it that led me to recognize the resource potential in the wind.
The plains of northern Montana are constantly windy and on the farm the wind can be more of a liability than an asset. It dries the moisture from the soil and batters at the trees and plants. And at its worst wind can cause severe soil erosion, as we saw in the dust bowl era. But the idea of turning this liability into an asset as a resource for energy was intriguing to me.
Throughout my travels over the years, I have had the pleasure to meet some truly amazing and innovative people, one of which was Georg von Wedel, my 12th cousin twice removed. I met Georg in Germany fifteen years ago, where he owned and operated a successful wind farm to support his castle, Schoss Goedins. Schoss Goedins is one of the few family owned and occupied castles in Germany because of the cost to maintain them. This was also the residence of some of my distant relatives from the 1500’s and I was there to continue my family research. It’s often my experience that opportunities arise where you least expect and while I was increasingly convinced that the wind could provide an excellent energy solution for the blustery prairies of Montana, Georg was similarly looking for opportunities to expand his efforts outside of Germany.
After five years of preliminary efforts including all the permitting and wind studies, Wind Park Solutions America, the company Georg and I had started with his business partner, Joerg Beland, sold the project to Invenergy from Chicago who constructed the Judith Gap Wind Energy Center, the first wind farm in Montana. It sits on 8,300 acres of land alongside Highway 191 between Harlowton and Judith Gap, Montana and it was one of three sites analyzed for 20 months. The Judith Gap site was selected due to the area’s constant wind speed averages: around 16mph.
There are 90 towers in operation, each 262 feet tall with three 126-foot blades that can be seen more than 25 miles away. Each tower, or turbine, can produce up to 1,500 kilowatts of power, which is enough to power more than 350 homes. That means, in full production, the Judith Gap Wind Farm provides clean, organic energy for as many as 36,000 homes, simply by utilizing the wind. Even better, the land around the towers continues to be used as it was before construction of the windmills, for either farming or cattle grazing.
Many did not believe we would succeed. My goal was not only to succeed in establishing Montana’s first wind farm but to do it in a way that would meet and exceed all the demands. This included answering the concerns of our critics in such a way that Montana’s first wind farm would not be its last. We also wanted to create an industry that would not follow the boom and bust cycles of the past 200 years of extracting resources from Montana.
I think these goals have been accomplished as there are now several other wind farms throughout Montana, each providing clean, sustainable power. But it all started with Judith Gap and the organic ideal to utilize the natural resources around us and turn a liability into an asset.