Company says power line moving forward

MONTANA - TransCanada Corp. told the governor of Montana that its plans for a big electricity line stretching to the Southwest are moving forward.

The line, first announced in 2006 and called the Chinook Transmission Line Project, could get conceptual federal approval by next month, said Alberta, Canada-based TransCanada.

The company expects to announce a partnership with a large wind power generator perhaps by April.

TransCanada told Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the meeting that it needs a commitment from a wind power company large enough to use about half of the transmission line's 3,000 megawatts.

"The project is really starting to get some legs," said Scott Farris, TransCanada government relations director.

TransCanada has a similar line planned for Wyoming, called Zephyr. The lines will provide "green energy" to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Southwest energy markets and will both stretch about 1,000 miles at a cost of about $3 billion for each line.

The company believes that the hungry energy markets in the Southwest have a desire to purchase renewable energy, even if it could cost more.

If everything goes well, the company said the transmission line could be in operation by 2014. At its rollout two years ago, the company had hoped to finish it by 2011.

Schweitzer said he has been told that the administration of President-elect Barack Obama will speed up the regulatory hurdles for green energy projects.

"We've been with you from the beginning and we are sticking with you," Schweitzer told company executives. "We want to be your partners."

Originally, the company envisioned that electricity from a coal-to-liquids plant would be a big part of its business model.

But Schweitzer said wind power appears to be proving more feasible.

It is thought the line will kickstart large energy projects, which need a way to sell their electricity to distant markets. It will be a more efficient direct current line, as opposed to the more traditional alternating current lines.

TransCanada is also developing the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline that would run through part of eastern Montana and take oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast.


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