The preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement on a proposed transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, recommends changes to soften its impact on landowners.
When constructed, the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. line would provide the state with 300 megawatts of electricity-transmission capacity. It is expected to spur construction of up to four wind farms in northcentral Montana, which would use the line to ship power to homes and businesses in Montana and Canada.
The State Department of Environmental Quality released the study late Friday afternoon.
Bob Williams of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., the company building the line, said late Friday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the draft study and couldn’t comment.
Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, who headed an earlier citizens advisory committee, said she appreciates the compromise and hopes “affected communities and landowners will view the report’s recommendation favorably so the power line can be built.”
“I’m extremely enamored with the $1 billion in economic development that the power line and accompanying wind farms will mean for northcentral Montana,” she said. “Montana is well positioned to supply renewable energy to a thirsty market.”
Cascade County will benefit from the proposed $10 million electric substation just north of Rainbow Dam near Great Falls, she said, but also could receive a far greater boost to its economy and tax base if some of the planned wind farms using the power line are built in the county.
The preferred alternative, one of four studied, is 130 miles long and estimated to cost $125 million to $150 million. It is also the preferred route of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., according to the DEQ.
In the draft study, the DEQ recommends that 24 miles of localized line be rerouted using single poles, instead of larger H-frames.
In addition, the study suggests that portions of the route be moved to the edge of farm fields instead of cutting diagonally across them.
“Where possible, we have tried to tweak their general line,” said Warren McCullough, chief of the DEQ’s environmental management bureau, which administers the Major Facilities Siting Act.
Farmers expressed concern during earlier public hearings that the proposed transmission line would interfere with operations if it crossed fields at an angle, McCullough said.
“I think the compromises sound fair and will help lessen the impact of the power lines on agriculture,” said Cut Bank-area farmer Don Bradley, who served on an earlier advisory committee, which summarized landowner concerns.
Conrad-area farmers, who have other transmission lines running through their property, had advocated single poles and crossing on public rights-of-way or the edges of fields as much as possible, he said.
It’s difficult for farmers using large modern equipment to pivot around bigger poles and sometimes it results in them either missing or double seeding and double fertilizing cropland near the poles, Bradley said.
Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud, director of the Port of Northern Montana, was also pleased with the recommendations and said he believes the wind farms will positively impact several counties.
Landowners will benefit financially in a couple of ways, he said. They will receive annual lease payments from the power line builder – a much better deal than the one-time payment their grandparents got for another power line 60 years ago.
More importantly, he said, when the pricey power line and wind farms are added to the tax base for the counties, farmers and ranchers should see considerable property-tax relief.
The line has been under development for about two years and construction is expected to begin later this year, assuming the necessary regulatory approvals are secured from Montana and Canadian authorities.
Long-term commitments have been secured from four companies: Great Plains Wind Energy, Energy Logics, Invenergy Wind Montana and Wing Hunter LLC. All are planning to build large wind farms near the transmission line.
A Spain-based alternative energy developer called Naturener recently purchased Great Plains. Naturener is planning a 300-megawatt facility in Toole and Glacier counties, which would make it the largest wind farm in the state.
Invenergy currently operates the largest wind farm in Montana at the 135-megawatt Judith Gap facility. Company officials have said they are considering constructing a wind farm north of Great Falls that’s larger than the Judith Gap facility. Wind Hunter is proposing a 170-megawatt facility in Valley County.
By Karl Puckett and Peter Johnson
Tribune Staff Writers
10 March 2007
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