‘All you winds, bless the Lord’ By Tom Gray

Some pithy quotes:

"Part of our tradition is treating the ecology with respect … And we think having wind energy, especially in this time, is a good way to express that."

"Scott Palmer, the owner of Wind Power of Montana, said the sisters are excited about the wind farm. When the turbine foundation was poured, they wrote words in the wet cement, including ‘blow wind blow’ and ‘all you winds, bless the Lord.’

"’I thought that was really unique,’ he said."

In the credit-where-credit-is-due department, kudos to NorthWestern Energy, the local utility which provided a $17,000 renewable energy grant to help fund the $24,000 project.



Poor Clares monastery sees practical and saintly reasons for going green

Two newly installed wind turbines that grace the property of the Poor Clares of Montana monastery in Great Falls sat idle last week, with rainy weather preventing workers from connecting them to the grid.

Inside the monastery, the mood was sunny. Three sisters, neatly dressed in tan dresses with crosses hanging from their necks, were eager to talk about God and their decision to go green.

For the Poor Clares, an order of Catholic nuns devoted to prayer, the two go hand in hand.

"Part of our tradition is treating the ecology with respect," Sister Catherine Cook said. "And we think having wind energy, especially in this time, is a good way to express that."

Large commercial wind farms featuring wind turbines that seemingly reach to the heavens are sprouting up across Big Sky Country, from the 210-megawatt Glacier Wind Farm in Glacier and Toole counties to Wheatland County’s 135-megawatt Judith Gap Wind Farm. Those facilities sell the power they generate.

The Great Falls monastery is part of a small but growing number of Montana businesses and individuals who also have become believers in harnessing the power of the state’s wind. These individuals and businesses — and nuns — put up shorter, less-powerful wind turbines to generate electricity for personal use, not profit.

An infusion of $1 million in federal stimulus funding in July 2009 to the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program has helped finance low-interest loans for 23 small wind or wind/solar projects statewide in the past year, according to the DEQ’s Paul Driscoll.

Eleven of those projects are in Cascade County, where the wind is as steady as the Poor Clares’ faith in prayer. The mission of the sisters is to pray for the church and the world.

The sisters quickly discovered that no prayers were needed for the wind to blow in Great Falls.

"It seemed a perfect place to put up wind turbines and use this resource that’s so plentiful here," Cook said.

Clare of Assisi, Italy, founder of the Poor Clares, was a 13th century colleague of St. Francis of Assisi, the church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.

The Poor Clares of Montana arrived in Great Falls in 1999, after being invited by the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. The worldwide order has almost 50 monasteries in North America.

Harnessing renewable energy from the wind is just practicing what St. Francis preached, according to the nuns.

St. Francis wrote the Canticle of Creation, a hymn celebrating the natural world that God created. In it, he refers to individual elements such as the sun, moon, stars and wind as "brother" and "sister."

"Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your Creatures," one verse states.

"He respected all of nature as a gift from God — and we should take care of it," Sister Maryalice Pierce said.

The sisters also had practical reasons for partnering with Brother Wind.

One, it’s just plain windy at the monastery, which sits on a bluff on 18th Avenue South. Almost immediately after moving into a newly constructed monastery in 2005, the sisters began talking about a wind-power project. Two, the electricity generated by the project will reduce the power bill, at least when the wind is blowing, Cook said.

The Poor Clares funded their project with the help of a $17,000 renewable energy grant from NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest utility. The total cost was $24,000.

The wind turbines were put up May 12. Wind Power of Montana, a company that sells and installs wind turbines, did the work. The turbines will be hooked up as soon as weather permits.

Scott Palmer, the owner of Wind Power of Montana, said the sisters are excited about the project. When the turbine foundation was poured, they wrote words in the wet cement, including "blow wind blow" and "all you winds, bless the Lord."

"I thought that was really unique," he said.

"We believe in doing things for the benefit of the ecology," Sister Jane Sorenson said. "That’s one of the reasons we really wanted to use wind energy."

Each of the 35-foot-tall towers, which have 12-foot-long blades, will produce 2.4 kilowatts of electricity.

The sisters hope the wind turbines at the monastery will encourage other property owners to heed the call for more renewable energy.

In the city of Great Falls, five wind turbines, including those owned by the Poor Clares, are either erected or in the process of being installed. Turbines already are twirling at the Montana State University-Great Falls College of Technology and C.M. Russell High School, and 2J’s Fresh Market is planning to put one up.

Joe LaForest, a planner with Cascade County, said the county has issued 10 permits for residential wind turbines since 2006.

"With the setback rules in Great Falls, the average homeowner couldn’t put one up," Palmer said.

The city and the county each require that turbines be a certain distance from a property line. LaForest said the rules are meant to ensure that towers fall within the owner’s property line if they should topple.

However, Palmer said the current rules are too strict.

"These things aren’t going to come down," he said.

Palmer noted that installing turbines is expensive, which also is a deterrent for people considering putting up a turbine. Many residents are not aware of the state’s low-interest loan program, or that the state offers a $1,000 renewable energy tax credit, while the federal government gives a 30 percent tax break on the installed costs of a wind turbine, he said.

By Karl Puckett, Tribune, www.greatfallstribune.com