Gov. Brian Schweitzer, joined by industry executives, announced plans Monday to build one of the longest electricity transmission lines seen in the West in 40 years _ a line that would carry “green” energy to big energy markets thousands of miles away.
The governor, who has placed coal-to-liquid fuel facilities as one of his top priorities, said he is promising to help TransCanada get environmental permits for the project that the company said could cost $2 billion.
If successful, the line would run from the coal fields of Montana to the Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix energy markets. It would carry electricity created by either wind power or synthetic gas derived from coal to meet clean energy requirements in the Southwest.
Developers hope to fast-track the project for completion by 2011, said Brad Thompson, a vice president of TransCanada, an independent power and infrastructure company.
Many hurdles exist. In addition to the state and federal permits that would be required, the company will also need to secure agreements from utilities to buy energy over the line and from companies that want to build the wind power plants and expensive plants to turn coal gas into electricity.
“But it starts here today,” Schweitzer said.
The line, which will be dedicated to exporting electricity, would carry enough power for roughly 3.5 million people, or about 3,500 megawatts, Thompson said. It would travel west from somewhere in eastern Montana, turn south near Townsend and go through Idaho on its way to Nevada. Connectors from the Las Vegas area would run to Los Angeles and Phoenix, the governor said.
Schweitzer and Thompson said the transmission line is needed to kick start separate plans to build big power plants.
Thompson said the line could compete with others being planned to run from Wyoming to the same energy markets. He said his company chose Montana because it believes the state has vast energy reserves and likes the support that Schweitzer has offered.
The governor said the state Department of Environmental Quality will work quickly to process needed permits. He also said he has signed a letter of understanding with the governors of Idaho and Nevada to help coordinate permitting for the line.
Schweitzer said the proposal will challenge energy companies and utilities to start building power generation in Montana.
Jon Walters with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who also attended Monday’s announcement, said workers will do everything possible to make sure the project gets built on time and under budget.
It was Schweitzer’s second major energy announcement this month. The governor previously unveiled plans made by a group of companies to build the nation’s first coal-to-liquid fuel facilities at the Bull Mountain mine 14 miles south of Roundup.
The Northern Plains Resource Council, which has been skeptical about the large-scale coal development, said it is still reviewing the proposed transmission line and could not offer comment.
By Matt Gouras
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