Written by KARL PUCKETT, Great Fall Tribune, April 19, 2011

A Montana John Deere dealer is now selling wind turbines, along with tractors and combines, as a new member of a national network that puts equipment needed to harvest wind and food under one roof.

"We're just tipping our toe in the cold water," said Jed Fulbright, a service technician with Moodie Implement Co., of the new concept.

Moodie, located on Havre Highway north of Great Falls, finished erecting a 50-kilowatt wind tower Tuesday.

The turbine, which cost $360,000 to purchase and install, is expected to begin generating electricity today. Moodie owners also want it to generate turbine sales, serving as an advertisement — "hey, we're out here selling them," Fulbright said.

Think One Energy Services erected the turbine for Moodie. The Bozeman-based renewable-energy company also agreed to install the turbines Moodie sells. Unlike a combine that's sold and delivered, turbines need to be installed, Think One President Rusty Harris said.

"Great Falls has a very good wind resource," said Harris, as falling snow whipped sideways across the installation site at Moodie.

NorthWestern Energy, the state's largest utility, awarded Moodie a $20,000 grant for the renewable energy project.

The 140-foot tower and its 26-foot-long blades dwarf the huge farm equipment on the ground, but turbines and farm machinery are a natural fit, Fulbright said.

For one, he said John Deere is well-suited to sell wind equipment because it has so many locations. And those businesses already have trained parts and sales departments in place that are capable of handling the diversification, he said.

"By the way, we're local and do service calls," Fulbright added.

Moodie has joined a turbine distribution network called Harvest the Wind, which was created by BTI Wind Energy in Greensburg, Kan. The network was the brainchild of the BTI John Deere dealership after Greensbrug decided to rebuild as the greenest city in America following a devastating tornado.

BTI Wind Energy distributes Endurance Wind Power Turbines, which are manufactured in Surrey, British Columbia, to affiliates across the U.S. and Canada.

Two employees at Moodie, including Fulbright, already have been trained to service turbines, he said.

"It's another tool to help farmers offset costs," Fulbright said of adding turbines to Moodie's product line.

However, Moodie isn't targeting only the agricultural community in selling more than traditional harvesting equipment.

Cities, schools, hospitals, farms and even families could buy turbines from the John Deere dealer, Fulbright said. The dealership will sell 5-kilowatt and 50-kilowatt turbines.

Moodie Implement also is planning to sell turbines at its locations in Havre, Lewistown, Belgrade and Livingston, Fulbright said.

The turbine at the Moodie site will meet 80-90% of the facility's electricity needs, Harris said. The blades will spin at a maximum of 42 revolutions per minute no matter how strong the wind blows. A "net meter" also was installed, which will allow electricity to be returned to the grid if the turbine produces more electricity than Moodie needs.

"We'll need a trained work force to work on wind turbines," Harris said.

That's why students in Jason Harding's sustainable energy technician program at Montana State University-Great Falls College of Technology were at Moodie's on Tuesday to watch workers assemble the turbine with the help of two cranes, including one capable of lifting 140 tons. The lattice tower was put up Monday.

Workers using huge wrenches almost as long as canes affixed the 950-pound blades to the 10,000-pound generator, which looked like a big blue engine encased in a white shell.

"This is the first class that's ever gone through the program," said Harding, director of the MSU-Great Falls program.

College instructors view the turbines as real-world opportunities for students to study wind technology — and as potential sources of employment for future wind turbine maintenance technicians.

Moodie was awarded the college's 5-year maintenance contract on the MSU-Great Falls wind turbine that was put up last year. Think One installed that turbine.

Turbines that produce 50 kilowatts of electricity are smaller than towers at big wind farms, but larger than residential turbines. Only a handful of them are up and running in Montana — and three of those are in Great Falls, Harris said.

"This is more sized for a large industrial-sized customer or community wind (project)," he said of the Moodie turbine.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Karl Puckett at 406-791-1471, 800-438-6600 or kpuckett@greatfallstribune.com.