December 28, 2010

Jefferson County commissioner chides Baucus over MSTI letter

By Justin Post of The Montana Standard, 28 December 2010

A Jefferson County commissioner on Monday sent a pointed letter to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., questioning him on a controversial electricity transmission line proposed for the region.

Commissioner Leonard Wortman sent the letter in response to a Nov. 12 “form letter” from Baucus about NorthWestern Energy’s proposed Mountain States Transmission Intertie, or MSTI.

The 500kV line would extend more than 400 miles, carrying roughly 1,500 megawatts from the Townsend area to southeastern Idaho.

Baucus’s Nov. 12 letter states the “construction and maintenance of the MSTI line will create jobs and stimulate wind energy investment in Montana.”

The senator’s letter goes on to say that, earlier this year, the utility sponsored a number of local meetings to address concerns.

“Rest assured, I am paying close attention to the ongoing dialogue between NorthWestern and concerned Montanans, and I appreciate hearing your views,” Baucus’s letter states.

Baucus assures that job creation is his top priority, and that he’s “certain” the state, feds, utility and local residents can “find the right path forward that will benefit Montana’s economy, while upholding our state’s natural beauty.”

Wortman responds by complimenting the senator for his “form letter,” but said he was responding to “clear up a few misstatements” by Baucus.

He said MSTI isn’t designed to deliver electricity throughout Montana, but to points in the southwestern United States.

“Keep in mind that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has just approved a new rule that will require the ratepayers in Montana to pay for the construction costs of MSTI, but we get no benefit,” Wortman’s letter states.

He continues saying NorthWestern didn’t sponsor the meetings earlier this year, but were only attending those organized by others, including his in Whitehall. (NorthWestern has held open houses on MSTI).

Wortman says he invited Baucus, Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Brian Schweitzer to attend, but that none responded to the invite, “so you missed out on hearing from over 300 people about their feeling on MSTI.”

Wortman finally questions Baucus on his claim that job creation is his top priority.

He points out that a not-yet-completed draft environmental impact statement on the MSTI line outlines few opportunities for Montanans.

“The increase in employment opportunities for the proposed project likely would have an indistinguishable impact on the overall labor market in the regional study area,” Wortman’s letter quotes from the draft EIS.

Wortman encouraged Baucus to work to reduce the power rates for Montanans with the state’s “huge surplus” of energy before shipping excess power to the highest bidder on power lines placed mainly on public land.

“I am calling on you, Sen. Baucus, and the other leaders of this state to actually back up your talk and really do something for the people of Montana,” Wortman wrote. “A few short-term jobs related to transmission lines and wind farms is not economic development.”

Wortman says Jefferson County is planning another meeting on the issue in Whitehall early in 2011.

He encouraged Baucus to attend.

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