Watch out, Windy City 

Alternative Energy

University of Montana alternative energy researcher Brian Kerns wants Missoula to take advantage of the winds of change. Literally.

He says that despite Missoula’s reputation as a relatively windless city—especially compared to eastern parts of the state—there are gusts aplenty if you look in the right places.

“East of the [continental] divide is a no-brainer in terms of wind resource,” says Kerns. “Anyone can plop [wind turbines] down and be assured a good payback on your investment. However, west of the divide hasn’t been so clear.”

Kerns is working to change that by finding and measuring Missoula’s windy spots, and at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, at MCAT, 500 N. Higgins Ave., he’ll lecture on Missoula’s wind power potential.

The only turbine Kerns currently has online is off of East Broadway in Hellgate Canyon and was installed in 2004 by Kerns and fellow researcher Paul Williamson. Only since November, though, has that turbine’s 10 kilowatts of power—enough to power two or three houses—been put to use at the nonprofit Montana Technical Enterprise Center, thanks to a NorthWestern Energy grant that funded hooking the turbine up to the grid.

Kerns has also been working with UM’s computer science and geography departments to create a modeling program for predicting wind generation. He’s got two 65-foot-tall weather towers, essentially high-tech flagpoles, he recently used to gather wind data from University Mountain, the peak east of Mount Sentinel, and an Ovando ranch. The results have convinced him that University Mountain could productively support a utility-grade wind turbine, which would generate up to 2 megawatts, about 100 times greater than what Hellgate’s turbine produces. Kerns also believes Mount Dean Stone, above Missoula’s South Hills, holds promise.

And given the increasingly supportive environment for developing wind power—according to the Department of Energy, in 2005 the United States installed record-breaking wind capacity, enough to power 2.3 million homes—Kerns says now is the time for breezy thoughts:

“There’s a resource here, and soon there will be funding to explore it…I think it would behoove the city of Missoula and its citizens to begin looking at this in a serious way.”

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