The Judith Gap Wind Farm is not a destination in itself but it’s an interesting feature on the Montana landscape. The wind farm is located on both sides of US 191 between Harlowton and Judith Gap MT. Wind farms are a common sight today but when it was constructed the Judith Gap Wind Farm was a welcome curiosity in Montana.
The project was first conceived in 2000 but it took until January 2005 before a contract was signed that committed Northwestern Energy to purchase the power produced. As soon as the contracts were signed contractors got to work. The first of the giant turbines began to generate power in October 2005. By early 2006 the planned 90 towers and generators were in place. Today the wind farm produces clean power on a consistent basis and residents applaud the development.
The windmills in this project are huge. The top of each tower is 262 ft above the ground and is capped by a large housing that serves as the hub for the three-bladed generator. Each of the blades is more than 125 ft long which means that the top height of the spinning blade is nearly 400 ft above the ground. The engineers that design the windmills try to make them as tall as possible to take advantage of smoother and more consistent wind. These tall and imposing windmills can be seen by travelers more than 25 miles away.
The blades are designed to begin to spin in winds below 8 mph. At about 33 mph they reach maximum electricity production and when the wind speed gets above 56 mph the turbines automatically shut down to protect the blades from spinning too fast. The blades are not designed to spin rapidly with the normal rate being 10 – 20 rpm.
These are very efficient wind generators and each unit is capable of producing up to 1.5 megawatts of power – enough to power somewhere between 350 and 400 homes. In full production, the 90 machines produce 135 megawatts which is about 8% of the total power used by Northwest energy.
Judith Gap Blade Park
A single blade is on display in “Blade Park” in Judith Gap. Be sure to stop at the roadside park to see a windmill blade on display. The park is tiny but big enough to display an actual blade from one of the windmills. These blades are marvels of construction. Standing next to the blade gives you a real appreciation for how big the windmills are. When I examined the blade I was struck by how massive and how flexible it is. The park also has a few interpretive panels that tell the story of the development. There are no facilities at Blade Park and few in Judith Gap.