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Montana Ag Network: Wind farming provides opportunities for ag producers

Wind farm
Posted at 9:16 AM, Aug 14, 2023

ETHRIDGE — When the name Berkshire Hathaway comes to mind, I’m sure you think about Warren Buffett, the CEO of the company and a leading businessman. In the last decade, Berkshire Hathaway has ventured into the clean energy field and is the sole owner of three wind farms along Montana’s Hi-Line.

“It started for Berkshire in 2020. We purchased the Montana Alberta Highline line from the previous owner in one of these wind farms, which connects directly into that transmission line,” explained Ed Rihn, pPresident and CEO of BHE Montana.

The commercial operation dates of the locations date back to the first site, Glacier 1 in 2008. In 2022, BHE Montana became the sole owner of the three sites completing the purchase from former owners, NaturEner.

When MTN News met with Berkshire Hathaway Energy at the end of July, the CEO of BHE Montana, Nancy Murray was unavailable to meet in person but was available via video call during in-person interviews.

The three wind farms in BHE’s operation are Glacier Wind 1, Glacier Wind 2, and Rim Rock, consisting of 266 turbines with a capacity of 399 megawatts. The wind farms generate an annual total of approximately 1.2-gigawatt hours of clean power.

Andy Whelchel, Manager of the Rim Rock wind farm in Toole County puts it into perspective.

“If we were running at about a 40% capacity factor, an average of the entire year spread out, that'd be approximately 120,000 homes we can power.”

BHE Montana’s place on the Hi-Line can be seen for miles, as towering wind turbines are directed at the Rocky Mountain front, taking in the Chinook Winds.

The company’s primary location is in Ethridge, between Shelby and Cut Bank, it might be hard to fathom why a multi-billion-dollar industry would choose rural Montana for business.

There is money and electricity to be made.

With over 24,00 employees worldwide in 28 different states, three continents, with an operating revenue of $26.3 billion in 2022. BHE Montana is funneling its resources back into the Hi-Line, as supporters of 4-H clubs, Shelby High School Uniform Fund, and fulfilling special requests from schools to educate students on Renewable Energy and Environmental Programs.

“As a business owner and a farmer rancher in Glacier and Toole County, anything that we can bring in business is something we should look at.” Aron Torgerson said, an agriculture producer with BHE Montana turbines on his land.

Like any commodity, the energy is primarily sold at the meter to a third-party power marketer. Most of the energy produce leaves the state of Montana. By 2026, BHE Montana will fulfill its current third-party contract and send the Montana-made energy to Alberta.

“It could be sending it to the West Coast, it could be sending it to Alberta. And that would change literally by the day,” said Rihn.

For Torgerson, his concern of where the energy is distributed is not a concern to him. BHE Montana provides him with financial compensation for the turbines being situated on his land but also gains from the access roads that BHE maintains year-round. For his farming operation, the turbine footprint takes up 1/10th of an acre, which is unnoticeable to his crop yield. He’s more focused on his day-to-day operations but says that BHE Montana values the relationship between one another.

Questions were brought to the attention of MTN News on energy companies handling decommissioned turbines, that the company doesn’t turn the footprint back to its natural state. We asked BHE Montana about its guidelines, and they told MTN that it follows strict regulations from the State and DES about how to handle those procedures. It has rarely decommissioned its turbines and they assured it would follow regulations to do so if it were to arise.

Another question that came into the newsroom was how the turbines are thawed out during the winter. Viewers were under the impression that diesel generators were used to keep the turbines in commission during the winter months. BHE Montana assures that isn’t the case, each turbine is equipped with heaters that power by electricity from each turbine's grid.

Wildlife conservation is a top priority, especially for eagles native to the wind farm sites.

“We constructed a permanent avian shelter that we called their monitoring shelters. And we have biologists in those shelters full-time. They have computer tablets in the field with them, and they're able to curtail turbines when we have any eagles coming through,” explained Steve Laufenberg, Manager of Project Development.

BHE Montana takes pride in the relationships it makes in the Hi-Line communities. Providing $2.6 million in Montana property taxes paid and $1.5 million in landowner payments in 2022.

If you are interested in wind farming on your property stop in and visit its office in Ethridge.

1321 Hjartarson Road
Ethridge, MT 54935


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