The company that was considering developing a power-generating facility on the Iron Mask property in the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of Townsend has withdrawn its application.
Matthew Shapiro, chief executive officer of Gridflex Energy in Boise, said on Saturday that the feedback they’ve received from various local, state and federal agencies made his company realize that the project is in a sensitive area that’s probably not appropriate for this kind of development. Gridflex notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday that the company decided to pull the application for a preliminary permit to study the project’s potential.
“We were already leaning in that direction based on the feedback we were getting,” Shapiro said. “We decided to take the final step with a simple letter to stop the process, which we probably would have done earlier if some of the agencies had informed us months ago, right after we filed for a permit, that it was a sensitive area.”
Gridflex had asked FERC for a permit for a feasibility study of a power generating facility on the Iron Mask property, to tie into the Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI) power line. As proposed, the project would consist of a 225-foot-high, 1,795-foot long upper dam made of either earth and rocks or concrete; and a 40-foot-high, 6,559-foot-long lower embankment made of earth or rocks. Both reservoirs would have storage capacities of 4,888 acre feet. The project would also consist of three underground tunnels and a 260-foot-long, 65-foot-wide, 120-foot-high underground powerhouse, located at a depth of 1,000 feet.
Shapiro said they would partially fill the reservoirs with water from the nearby Canyon Ferry Reservoir. When power is needed, they would run water from the upper reservoir through the pump house and into the lower reservoir, then transmit up to 300 megawatts along a single-circuit 230-kilovolt, 4.9-mile-long transmission line to a NorthWestern Energy substation being proposed for land south of Townsend.
The water would be pumped back to the upper reservoir, possibly at night when electricity rates are lowest, but neither reservoir would ever be completely drained, he said, and drawing water from Canyon Ferry would be a one-time need.
According to Shapiro, when he first approached the Bureau of Land Management about the project, no red flags were apparent.
“They said essentially that the reservoir footprint didn’t sound very significant,” Shapiro said.
But in written comments to FERC, representatives of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Elkhorn Working Group, the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service all noted that the project probably isn’t appropriate for the proposed site. They wrote that the reservoirs would be in the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit, which is a unique designation in which the land is managed specifically for the benefit of the elk, bighorn sheep, deer and other animals that inhabit the area.
The Elkhorn Working Group added that the 5,500-acre Iron Mask parcel acquisition for $2.75 million from a private party was only finalized in 2007 and that it was bought for the explicit purpose of removing the threat of development there.
Tom Williams, the group’s chairman said he was a bit surprised yet pleased at the decision to pull the project from consideration.
“I somewhat expected this because they got quite a bit of opposition from all the government agencies,” Williams said. “It really wasn’t feasible for that area and I think they knew that when they started it, but were just seeing if they could study it.”
Shapiro said they’re looking into a couple of other areas to site the project, but they’re farther away from the proposed MSTI line and don’t have the same type of elevation difference as did the Iron Mask property, so he’s not sure if they’ll work for his company.
“We’ll continue to think about whether it’s worth pursuing, as well as the strength of the market,” Shapiro said.
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