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Powerline EIS ready  

Landowners along a proposed private transmission line’s right-of-way from Great Falls to Lethbridge, Alta., will have an opportunity starting March 27 to comment on the environmental impact statement for the project.

Montana’s Major Facility Siting Act requires an environmental impact statement for Montana-Alberta Tie Ltd.’s proposed 230-kilovolt “merchant” power line. It would be the first power line to be built between Alberta and Montana.

In an interview last week, Major Facility Siting Act Program Coordinator Tom Ring said the EIS document is at the printer and will soon be available to download on the DEQ Web page, www.deq.mt.gov/MFS/index.asp.

DEQ will begin a 30-day public-comment period on March 9. Public hearings will be held in Cut Bank, Conrad and Great Falls.

Proponents for the 203-mile-long private transmission line say it will increase the reliability of the nation’s electricity-grid system and provide economic development through wind-energy projects that cannot be built unless someone constructs new transmission lines.

Supporters say that landowners would lease their land for the wind turbines, workers would earn high wages to maintain the turbines and local governments in several northcentral counties would received tax money from the line and from the wind parks.

Concerned farmers along the right-of-way in Pondera and Teton counties say they are not against the idea of the line. However, they have urged the company during several public meetings to use single poles running east-west or north-south along field edges to mitigate the impact on their operations. They add that the proposed compensation for a right-of-way easement is small compared to the loss of farming productivity in future decades as they deal with a double-pole design placed diagonally through fields, which is the company’s proposal for the most part.

Ring said he will post the environmental impact statement as a tabbed portable document file to make it easy to download. He also plans to mail a copy to property owners along the right-of-way and to people who have requested one.

He said the document, which Tetratech of Helena prepared, will list three major alternatives concerning route and design, but he declined to provide a summary at this time. He said both DEQ and the federal Department of Energy had reviewed the environmental impact statement. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must also approve the project as must several Canadian regulatory agencies.

Calgary, Alta.-based Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., (MATL) had expected DEQ’s approval last fall with construction slated for this winter. The timetable is now pushed back until at least the middle of the year. The company cannot begin construction until it receives a certificate of compliance from DEQ, which requires a 30-day comment period on the draft EIS, an analysis period before a final EIS is published, and 30 days before the DEQ director makes a decision.

The company maintains a Web site, www.matl.ca, which includes a list of the other regulatory agencies that must approve the proposal.

Ring said the delay in preparing the environmental impact statement occurred for a variety of reasons, but he declined to elaborate. Each project that crosses his desk has its own set of challenges, he said. He encouraged Acantha readers to obtain a copy of the EIS, review it and provide DEQ with comments that get at the “meat” of the discussion.

“While it is nice to know whether you favor or oppose the project, a good solid final EIS depends on people telling us where we have it right and don’t have it right in the draft. This is their chance to partake in the decision-making process,” Ring said.

Ring declined to say whether DEQ’s approval would be contingent on the Canadian National Energy Board’s approval.

Allen Denzer, a Conrad area farmer and rancher, said he has not heard from MATL since Dec. 10 when he met with the MATL’s Advisory Committee and two consultants who MATL asked to create a computer program that shows the impact of transmission lines on farming operations as a means of determining compensation above that which was already offered landowners along the right of way.

“It was a disaster,” Denzer said. “We spent four hours going over the model. I started adding things like lost time and in the end, the two professors said the model will not work.”

Dutton area farmer Chris Stephens said he hopes that the EIS will recommend that MATL use single poles at right angles for its power lines crossing cropland.

He said everyone is making many quick decisions and no one is planning the big picture. “This is the first [private power line.] It isn’t the last. We need to do this one correctly so it isn’t a template for the next one.”

He said that when Montana Power put in its line from Cut Bank to Great Falls years ago, they were at the height of their power and influence and landowners along the right-of-way could not stop diagonal installation. Now, private companies are entering the energy market and the MATL is the tip of the iceberg, he said.

Indeed, the proposed MATL line has provided four wind-energy-development companies to seek capacity on MATL’s line. Two of the companies that have reserved 300 megawatts of capacity running south to north into Lethbridge were recently bought by Naturener SA, a Spanish renewable-energy-project developer with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. One of the purchased companies, Energy Logics, has a partner, Greenwind Power Corp., based in Vancouver, B.C., that is proposing several wind parks in southern Alberta. The other company is proposing a wind park straddling Glacier and Toole counties.

The other two companies that reserved 300 megawatts of capacity, north to south, into Great Falls have not released their plans. NorthWestern Energy’s Transmission Operations Director Ted Williams said, in a recent interview, that no capacity exists at this time to route 300 megawatts south of Great Falls. However, opportunities for building more power lines exist as Montana’s energy picture changes. The first question to be answered is who will pay for the new line, Williams said.

None of the wind-energy companies have stated who their customers will be, but Montana already exports excess electricity and it is assumed it would do so in the future.

According to its Feb. 1 newsletter, MATL’s efforts to secure options on more property in the right-of-way have been “trimmed back until the regulatory process winds down.” The company indicated in a previous progress report that if right-of-way negotiations fail, it would seek recourse under the state’s eminent-domain laws.

Meanwhile, MATL has secured a $11.1 million letter of credit to cover the cost of integrating the line into Alberta’s transmission system and paying regulatory costs until construction commences.

By Nancy Thornton
Acantha reporter

choteauacantha.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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