Flood waters of the upper Sun River overcrest Gibson Dam in the spring of 1964
The history of energy development in Montana is very closely tied to our varied geology and the powerful forces of nature.
Geological events that occurred over millions of years laid down coal seams that underlie approximately a third of our state. Domes of crude oil and natural gas formed and overthrusts raised up our mountain ranges to collect precipitation as snow. Major river basins drain the snowmelt to both sides of the Continental Divide. Prevailing winds from the west gain momentum as they plunge off the spine of the continent and onto the Montana plains. The resulting weather patterns offer many cloudless days over much of the state.
These are the base factors that underpin Montana's energy resources of coal, oil, gas and renewable sources such as hydro-power, wind-power, and solar.
Please visit our History of Oil and Gas Development in Montana, the History of Electricity Generation in Montana, and the History of Coal in Montana.
A History of Renewable Energy in Montana has yet to be written, although hydroelectric resources are covered in the History of Electricity Generation. Still, Montana can lay claim to one of the earliest commercial wind turbine manufacturers: the Jacobs Wind Electric Company, which was founded in 1920 near Vida in McCone County. The Jacobs brothers were early innovators of installing an airplane-type of blade to generate electricity from wind.
M.L. Jacobs atop a wind tower, circa 1927