The owner of the state’s largest wind farm might build an even larger complex north of Great Falls if a 218-mile merchant transmission line is constructed between the city and Lethbridge, Alberta.
The developer of that line says construction could be done by this time next year, assuming government regulators in both countries sign off. The project still is being reviewed by government agencies.
“The future is bright for wind in Montana,” said Mark Jacobson, Invenergy’s senior development manager. “The challenge of dealing with the lack of transmission is starting to get worked on.”
Chicago-based Invenergy, which owns the Judith Gap wind farm, bid for 180 megawatts of transmission capacity on the proposed line and won it in August.
Capacity on the line, in both directions, is now full.
Four wind-generated power companies were the high bidders for space on the line, according to Calgary-based Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., the developers of the merchant transmission line. Besides Invenergy, the other high bidders included Great Plains Wind Energy, which is proposing a wind farm southeast of Cut Bank, and Wind Hunter LLC, which is proposing a large, four-phased wind farm in northcentral Valley County.
“If this power line goes in you can probably expect Invenergy will have a wind farm somewhere north of Great Falls,” said John Bacon, who runs Invenergy’s wind farm south of Judith Gap.
It would take 120 wind turbines to generate 180 megawatts. If that number is constructed, it would make it even larger than the Judith Gap Farm, which has 90 turbines, making it the largest in Montana.
Jacobson said the company has a “significant amount” of land under easement north of Great Falls that’s located along the proposed line.
He wouldn’t say specifically where that land is.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of good wind north of Great Falls,” Jacobson said. “There’s a lot of opportunity along that entire stretch from Great Falls to the Canadian border and over the next 10 years, assuming that transmission structure is built, I anticipate a lot of projects being sited there.”
Ches Maciorowski, Montana Alberta Tie Ltd.’s marketing director, said the transmission line would lead to an “absolutely huge” capital investment, even as much as $1 billion. That capital investment would be in the form of infrastructure, turbines, substations and transmission lines needed for power-generating wind farms that would spring up along the line, he said.
Maciorowski said the company is dealing with state and federal regulatory authorities in Montana and provincial and federal authorities in Canada to receive the necessary permits to construct the line.
He said he expects all final approvals to come in the next two to four months.
Construction would immediately follow and it would take six months to construct the line. An Oct. 1, 2007, completion is possible, Maciorowski said.
“A lot of time, effort and money has been dedicated to the project in anticipation of the regulatory approval so effectively when we begin construction we hit the ground running,” he said.
The cost is expected to be between $125 million and $150 million.
Bacon called the transmission line “way overdue” as obstacles to developing wind power in Montana have been the state’s small customer base and the lack of transmission lines to get power to other markets.
Space on transmission lines isn’t a guarantee. Companies still have to find buyers for the power they produce.
“The power purchase agreement is the key,” Bacon said.
By Karl Pucket
Tribune Staff Writer