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Working with the wind

Courtesy Photo A hilltop view of Montana-Dakota Utilities' Cedar Hills Wind located near Rhame. The turbines started spinning in early June.

Though a wind farm near Rhame just began operation a few months ago a decommissioning plan is on file, the Public Service Commission confirmed during a Wednesday meeting.

Law requires the plans from any wind farm, which explains how the company would take down the turbines and reclaim the land if it became necessary.

Cedar Hills Wind in Bowman County began operation on June 6.

"We have what the country needs and wants," State Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer said. "There is a strong appetite for energy and we can supply it."

Cedar Hills is a 19.5 megawatt wind farm made up of 13 General Electric 1.5 megawatt turbines, Cramer said.

"A lot of people driving by have commented on how big they are," Bowman County Commissioner Rick Braaten said.

Each tower is 394 feet tall -- which is equivalent to a 40-story building, according to the General Electric website.

Montana-Dakota Utilities developed the $47.7 million project in Rhame for several reasons.

"MDU wanted to get ahead of the ball game on the going green and clean energy movement that is sweeping across our country," Bowman County Commissioner Ken Steiner said.

"In North and South Dakota we have renewable objectives, meaning goals, not laws, that 10 percent of the electricity come from renewable generation by 2015," Cramer said.

Mark Hanson, senior public relations representative for MDU said the farm was only half a mile from transmission lines, which was a benefit.

"Sighting another wind project near Diamond Willow, located in Baker, Mont. allows for synergies between the two projects," said Darcy Neigum, system operations and planning manager of MDU.

So, what has the wind farm done for Bowman County?

"I think the farmers who let MDU put towers on their farms get a nice bonus from them, and the wind towers don't take up much room," Steiner said.

"How good they (wind turbines) are remains to be seen," Cramer said.

At a good wind site each GE 1.5 MW turbine can produce enough electricity to supply the annual energy needs of about 400 average U.S. homes, according to the GE website.

The disadvantage of using wind is reliability.

"If the wind is not blowing you can't generate electricity," Hanson said. The blades start turning at 7 miles an hour but they do not produce electricity at that speed, he said. The optimal speed is 25 mph, at that speed it is producing at its fullest capacity. "But if the wind gets up to 55mph or more the wind towers automatically shut down," Hanson said.

Cramer said by the end of 2010 the state will have 1,500 megawatts of wind power that makes it the 10th in overall production of wind. "And that's saying a lot for a coal producing state," he said.