Thursday, April 27, 2006

Counties, cities seek wind bonds

Published on Thursday, April 27, 2006.
Last modified on 4/27/2006 at 12:27 am

Counties, cities seek wind bonds
Gazette Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- More than 30 Montana cities and counties filed applications Wednesday for interest-free federal financing for wind energy projects, with Yellowstone and Cascade county commissioners coming to Washington to submit theirs and to lobby on rural issues.

The local governments submitted applications to the U.S. Treasury Department for a total of $37.2 million in renewable bonds for wind projects. A total of $800 million has been appropriated for the new program nationwide.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy said the county requested slightly more than $4 million to build 18 wind turbines that would produce 4.5 megawatts of power.

That would be enough to power all of the county buildings, including MetraPark, the courthouse and the detention facility, he said. It costs $250,000 to pay for electricity at MetraPark annually, Kennedy said.

Cascade County Commission Chairwoman Peggy Beltrone said her county's application totaled $3.6 million that would finance 16 100-foot-tall towers that would produce 4 megawatts.

"Montana has one of the best wind resources in the nation, and yet we have had a slow start in wind energy," she said. "It will show people in Montana across these many jurisdictions ... that it can be done, that wind energy is possible. It's possible in our hometowns, possible in our home counties."

The pair met yesterday with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who crafted the program, called Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, that passed Congress as part of the 2005 energy bill.

Baucus said he's confident that Montana will do well in the approval process.

"The legislation was written in a way so that smaller projects are at the head of the line," he said.

The program will run for two years under existing legislation, but Baucus said he is working to extend it for three more.

Claud Matney and Mike Costanti of Matney-Frantz Engineering in Bozeman handled all the applications and came to Washington to submit them. The company has been working on energy projects since the 1970s.

Kennedy and Beltrone came to Washington as part of the annual legislative fly-in of the National Association of Counties Rural Action Caucus, which Kennedy chairs this year.

Caucus members from across the country came to Capitol Hill to meet with more than 30 members of Congress and with domestic policy assistants at the White House on rural issues.

Kennedy said the issues they covered included Community Development Block Grants, funding for methamphetamine prevention and law enforcement, funding for a rural schools act, and payments that rural counties with large tracts of federal land receive in lieu of taxes they could collect if that land were private.

Beltrone said she was also in town to pick up an award for Cascade County for its wind energy marketing program.

Montana counties applying for the wind grants are Big Horn, Blaine, Carbon, Cascade, Chouteau, Fergus, Golden Valley, Hill, Judith, Basin, Liberty, Meagher, Musselshell, Park, Pondera, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Wheatland and Yellowstone.

Towns applying are Big Sandy, Big Timber, Chester, Chinook, Columbus, Conrad, Hardin, Harlem, Harlowton, Lavina, Lewistown, Livingston, Red Lodge, Roundup, Ryegate, Stanford and Three Forks.