State Approves 214 Mile Montana-Alberta Power Line

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – A 214-mile power line expected to spur several large-scale wind energy projects in northwestern Montana is one step from final approval, after state regulators signed off on the project Wednesday.

The $150 million Montana-Alberta Tie line would carry up to 300 megawatts of power each direction between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta.

Contracts are in place with three companies — Wind Hunter, NaturEner and Invenergy — that want to use the line’s 600 megawatts of capacity for several planned wind farms.

That could more than triple the amount of wind energy produced in Montana. The state is considered to have some of the best winds in the country for power generation, but has long trailed other states in development.

“This really opens the door for wind developments that we know are coming, that are going to provide a lot of economic benefits in northwestern Montana,” said Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The transmission line, known as MATL, is proposed by Tonbridge Power, Inc. of Toronto. The company is finalizing a $90 million construction loan and has customer agreements to prepay $35 million in future revenues toward the cost of the project.

Canadian officials signed off on the line in August. The Montana DEQ on Wednesday awarded the project a certificate needed for construction.

Still needed is a border crossing permit from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is expected to act within the next several weeks.

However, some farmers on both sides of the border have objected to the line crossing their land. A pending court appeal brought by farmers in Canada threatens to delay the project if the farmers prevail. A hearing in the case is scheduled for January 13.

Tonbridge plans to begin construction next spring and complete the line roughly a year later.

Montana regulators said Wednesday they had selected a route that would minimize the number and extent of such crossings.

Tonbridge chief executive Johan van’t Hof said the company would pay landowners for the rights-of-way, for rental space for the transmission poles and towers, and for any damage to crops.

The company’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Bob Williams, said right-of-way agreements have been reached with about a third of the 440 property owners whose land will be crossed.

“This project has been reviewed by a number of regulatory agencies,” Williams said. “We remain fully confident that the need for this project is not in question.”

Company officials said the project was boosted by a “clean and green” energy bill approved by the Montana Legislature to give property tax breaks to projects that emit no carbon — a major contributor to global warming.

Van’t Hof said those tax reductions would save the company about $3 million annually.

Wind farms in Montana currently generate about 271 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power up to 135,000 homes. That ranks the state 17th in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.