Montana is one of the windiest states in the country! In fact, our wind energy potential ranks among the top five of all 50 states. Dozens of Montanans are harnessing the wind to produce electricity and reduce their utility bills. Nationwide, there are 100,000 small wind turbines in operation! Like many small-scale renewable energy systems, small-scale wind systems can be connected to the grid, or can be off-grid systems.
If your home or business is connected to the electricity grid, you can connect your system to the grid as well. This allows you to buy utility power when the wind isn't blowing, rather than requiring battery backup. In addition, when your wind system is generating more electricity than you are consuming, this electricity can flow back onto the grid if your utility has an active net-metering program. Net-metering allows to you earn credits for the excess energy you generate and share onto the grid, which you can then use to cover your future energy usage from the grid when your wind system is not generating electricity. Contact your electric utility for more information about their net-metering policy.
Off-grid wind energy systems, also called standalone systems, are appropriate in remote areas without access to the grid, and are often much less costly than running a power line to connect to the grid. Standalone systems require batteries or another form of energy backup to provide power when the wind isn't blowing. It is a good idea to discuss off-grid generation with a renewable energy system installer. Generating your own energy off-grid has its challenges, and your installer can talk through the trade-offs in cost and generation system options.
What size wind system do I need?
"Small" wind turbines can range in size from less than 1 kW up to 100 kW. For a household or small business, 10 kW or less is sufficient. The turbine picture on this page is 10 kW. By contrast, the large commercial turbines at Montana's Judith Gap Wind Farm are 1,500 kW each, and one machine provides enough power for 300 homes. For wind power to make sense for you, you need to live in a place with an average annual wind speed of at least 9-10 miles/hour. Because wind speed increases the farther you get from the ground, it's important to have a tall enough tower; 30 feet minimum or higher depending on your location and surroundings. Obstacles such as trees and buildings cause turbulence that reduces the efficiency of wind turbines so it is important to design your wind turbine's tower high enough to avoid them, usually at least 25 feet taller than anything for 250 feet in any direction. It is also necessary to ensure that wind systems are permitted by local zoning rules.
How much will it cost?
The price of a small wind system varies enormously - anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 - depending on the size of the turbine, the tower height, location, and other factors. Incentives and tax credits may be available to significantly reduce the price of small wind systems. One of the best ways to ensure your renewable energy system pencils out financially is to first transition your home or business to rely on electricity instead of natural gas or propane, and to invest in energy efficiency measures. To learn more, see our resources on Efficiency and Electrification.
What incentives and tax credits are available?
There are several options available. Visit our Financing and Incentives page for more information on your options. You should also learn about how net metering will help you get the most out of your investment.
Where can I find an installer?
The column on the right hand side of this page lists a number of installers operating in Montana. These companies are all MREA members! You can also visit our full Installer Directory for an interactive map of installers.
Where can I find more information?
- WINDExchange - Montana Wind Resource Maps and Information
- US Department of Energy Small Wind Systems Information
- Montana State University Extension E3A Small Wind Fact Sheets
- American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) – Wind 101
Photo credit (this page): Sage Mountain Center