On a shortcut from Billings to Great Falls on Montana State Hwy 191, the Judith Gap Wind Energy Center is located about half-way between Harlowton and Judith Gap. While not a tourist destination, the wind center is an massive site seen 25 miles away. In the small town of Judith Gap is also a Blade Park, showcasing one of the 125 foot blades and several interpretive panels telling the story of the development.
Built in 2005 by Invenergy, a leading supplier of sustainable energy, the 90 towers that make up the wind wind energy center, rise 262 feet above the earth and are powered by three 126-foot blades. Each turbine is capable of producing 15 megawatts of power, enough to power up to 400 homes. The combined 90 turbines can produce up to 135 megawatts when in full production. All energy is purchased by Northwestern Energy.
In comparison to solar panels, wind turbines are efficient power source and release less CO2 to the atmosphere, consume less energy, and produce more energy overall. One wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity per kWh as about 48,704 solar panels. The problem is the impact to the environment and wildlife in search of alternative sources of energy.
The US is the second largest producer of wind energy in the world, with an installed capacity of over 96GW, and it has six of the world’s top ten onshore windfarms. Output by state varies by factors including size, climate and policy. The top ten US states by wind energy capacity are:
Texas is the state leader of wind energy with 18,000 active wind turbines and a total installed capacity of 24,899MW – enough energy to power over six million homes. Roscoe wind farm located in in Central Texas had 634 wind turbines at a capacity of 781.5MW producing 2,174 GWh of electricity per year. Texas’ growth in wind power in the early 2000s was due to former governor and current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Under his tenure, wind power surged from 116MW to over 11,000MW and $7 billion was invested in a transmissions to connect renewable power to Texan cities.
Iowa is the second state with 6283 active wind turbines and 8,422MW of installed capacity. Home of the wind blade manufacturers Siemens and TPI Composites, the state has the largest percentage of its energy produced from wind in the US – 37% of its electricity supply is generated from 4,637 turbines. In 1983, Iowa was the first state to adopt a renewable portfolio standard when it ordered utility companies to own or contract 105MW of renewable energy.
Oklahoma is the third in its share of share of electricity generated from wind with 5474 active wind turbines and a capacity of 8,072MW.
California has 5989 active wind turbines making it the fourth largest state. The largest windfarm in the US located in Tehachapi, Kern County, is the Alta Wind Energy Center. Also known as Mojave Wind Farm, it has a combined installed capacity of 1,550MW, the power generated by the wind farm is sold to Southern California Edison under a 25-year power purchase agreement.
Kansas has strong wind potential and nearly 3,000 turbines generating a capacity of 5,653MW of power. According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, installed capacity could reach over 7,000MW in the state by 2030. The state signed the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) into law in May 2009, which required utilities to generate or purchase 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Illinois has a wind capacity close to 5,000MW from 2,812 turbines. Illinois also has about 1300MW under construction or in advanced development.
Minnesota’s wind energy comes from nearly 2,500 turbines generating 3,779MW mostly located in the south of the state. Buffalo Ridge Wind Farm near Lake Benton in Western Minnesota is the largest windfarm in the state is with a capacity of 225MW.
Ranking eighth largest in the US, Colorado has a number of large wind farms generating a capacity of 3,706MW. These include the Rush Creek Wind Project, Cedar Creek Wind Farm, and east of Denver -Limon Wind Energy Centre (368 turbines) ranking eighth largest in the US and 11th largest in the world.
The Northwest state of Oregon is ninth in the list with 3,123MW. In 2018 wind energy accounted for 11% of the state’s energy capacity, enough to power nearly 700,000 homes. The third largest windfarm in the US near the border of Washington State is shepherds Flat windfarm, generating a capacity of 845MW. The farm cost $2 billion, with funding coming from the Department of Energy and private investors including Google.
In tenth place is North Dakota with 1,665 turbines generating 3,155MW of wind energy capacity. The state produces nearly 26% of its energy from wind power, ranking fourth in the US. The Bison Wind Energy Centre is the largest windfarm in the state with 165 turbines generating a capacity of 497MW operated by Siemens. North Dakota has over 900MW of wind energy under construction.