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Before Montana gets hit with bigger power bills, a group of Missoula citizens is hoping to find other ways to power the state by examining alternative, renewable energy sources on school trust lands.

On Friday, they'll gather to talk about the viability of wind farms, tapping into natural gas for generation, and the effectiveness of biomass energy - fuel from burning small-diameter trees and slash that are baled into bundles.

"We are trying to locate a low-cost source of power and heat, not just for K-12 schools and universities, but also for government entities and institutions," said George Bailey, who directs the Information Technology Authority, a partnership between the University of Montana and the state Department of Commerce to create higher paying jobs.

Montana's constitution established a permanent land trust to support public education, Bailey said.

"Currently, millions of dollars of potential revenue from the development of energy resources on school trust lands are not being utilized - at a time when both K-12 schools and universities are in dire need of sustainable funding," he said.

Developing ways to use wind, biomass energy and coal-bed methane natural gas available on school lands could help solve the state's energy crisis, he said.

Harmon Raney of Missoula's West Central Environmental Consulting will give a presentation on extracting and using natural gas; Jim Carkulis of Missoula will lead discussion on wind power; and Gary Callihan of Darby-based ForestTech will talk about producing biomass energy.

The group supports the initiative for sustainable power development on school trust lands, which proposes that the state builds wind turbines to harness wind power, establish a new 500-megawatt coal-bed methane natural gas power generation facility, with excess production sold to the public for additional school-funding revenue, and promote forest health by harvesting small-diameter wood.

The initiative also lobbies for the development of a research center to support energy conservation and alternative energy production.

On Monday, Bailey will present the group's plans and information to Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown.

"This meeting in Missoula is to prepare for our meeting with Brown, and to hear what the public thinks," Bailey said.

Dick King, executive director of Missoula Area Economic Development Corp., said the meeting will be an opportunity for people to learn and ask questions about alternative energy.

"There's a chance that we could become proactive here in Montana and perhaps, help educational institutes in other states," he said.

If you are interested

The public is welcome to attend a meeting about alternative energy sources 10 a.m. Friday at the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp., 127 E. Front St., Suite 216.

The meeting is sponsored by a group of Missoula-area residents who support the initiative for sustainable power development on school trust land.

For more information, call 243-5459 or 728-3337.

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