Alicia Moe calls her husband Richard, “A man of few words.” Richard Moe may have few words, but he has many interests and is involved in a host of efforts to develop and improve Wheatland County.
Richard has been County Commissioner Moe since 1994. He was prompted to get into his first election because, “I feel people need to give something back to their community. I was interested and thought I could do some good.” And, he obviously has.
Moe notes that over the years, the work of the County Commission has changed. “We collect the tax money here but have to send it all to the state. They then allocate some of it back to us. We’re limited by law as to the amount of money the County can spend unless we want to go to special levies.”
Still, there are other ways to bring funds into the county coffers. The wind farm has been the big one for Wheatland County. Richard and Commissioners Dave Miller and Tom Bennett have been involved with the Wind Farm since the earliest meetings were held in Judith Gap six years ago.
But, there were many hoops to jump through before the dream became reality. Tax laws were changed in the legislature to make wind energy more competitive with coal and natural gas generation. Wheatland County cut its tax rate for the wind project by 50 percent for five years. Federal incentives helped make the project more appealing to investors. The presence of nearby transmission lines were another important factor. Even with all that, the Public Service Commission turned down the initial proposal. Without persistence of all involved, the Wind Farm would still be just an idea.
The present facility can generate 135 Megawatts of electricity. Expansion could bring that up to 188 MW at a later date. According to recent reports, the Judith Gap Wind Farm is working at a level beyond expectations and will bring regular and significant taxes into the county’s general fund.
An impact fund was negotiated as a part of the tax break which the County Commissioners offered the new Wind Farm. That money - over $2,000,000 - will come straight to the county-- a real opportunity for the county and its schools. A committee will soon make recommendations to the Commissioners on how to use that money.
Richard points out: “There is room for much more development in wind and coal energy in Montana” and stresses that “we need to capitalize on being the state’s Wind County.” Diverse groups are beginning to be attracted to Wheatland County to see what has been accomplished on the prairie between Harlowton and Judith Gap. Four score business people and government officials from Park County are expected to visit the Wind Farm and the area in early March. They will be able to see what cooperation between private entrepreneurs and progressive government can create.
Regarding the business climate in the area, Richard says, “There is definitely room for growth. Every business that is active and growing helps with things like improved freight rates and better UPS service. It also helps bolster the attitude of the whole community.” As part owners in Cream of the West, Richard and Alicia Moe were actively engaged in bringing a new business into the area. Richard notes the hot cereal company has added new jobs, new products and custom packaging since moving here 3 years ago. “Cream of the West is growing”, Moe says, “which is good for all of us.”
Richard is proud to say he’s a life-long Montana rancher. “Although we are always looking for ways to diversify, ranching is our mainstay.” The Moe Ranch, which is located west of Two Dot, is their base of operation. “Alicia and I are partners in everything we do.”
When the Moes take time for relaxation and fun, it usually involves travel. They like to visit their children, spread from Montana to Utah to Maryland, and their extended families scattered from coast to coast.
Richard Moe spoke at the recent Annual Meeting of the Harlowton Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture on “Lessons of the Past and Challenges of the Future.” He recognized that much had been learned over the years that will, hopefully, not needed to be relearned. He encouraged the County to look to its future with optimism, cooperation and persistence.
“We’ve made significant progress,” he noted, “but we can’t stop now. We need to use advantages, such as low cost housing, a talented work force and modest business startup costs, to encourage existing businesses to expand and new companies to rise from within as well as be drawn from outside the area. We have business successes to be pleased about. We need to aggressively seek new businesses to join us.”