Montana agency releases analysis of proposed Alberta-Montana power line

GREAT FALLS, MONTANA - A draft environmental analysis of the proposal to string a major electric transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alta., recommends changes to lessen the effect on landowners.

In the study, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality agreed with most of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd.'s 210-kilometre route for the power line.

But the agency suggested changing the route in places, so it follows the edges of farm fields, rather than cutting through them.

"Where possible, we have tried to tweak their general line," said Warren McCullough, chief of the DEQ's environmental management bureau, which administers the Major Facilities Siting Act.

Bob Williams of Montana Alberta Tie said the company hadn't seen the analysis and therefore had no comment.

The power line would start northeast of Lethbridge, extend to a NorthWestern Energy substation at Great Falls and tie in with existing transmission lines. Some of the proposed line's capacity already has been sold to companies intending to develop wind power.

Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, who headed an earlier citizens advisory committee, said she is pleased with the compromise and hopes "affected communities and landowners will view the report's recommendation favorably so the power line can be built."

"I'm extremely enamoured with the $1 billion (US) in economic development the power line and accompanying wind farms will mean for north-central Montana," she said.

"Montana is well-positioned to supply renewable energy to a thirsty market."

The preferred alternative, one of four studied, would cost an estimated $125 million to $150 million. It also is the preferred route of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., the DEQ said.

In the draft study, the DEQ recommends 40 kilometres of localized line be rerouted using single poles, instead of larger H-frames.

Farmers have expressed concern the proposed transmission line would interfere with operations if it crossed fields at an angle, McCullough said.

Also, farmers using large equipment have a hard time manoeuvring around bigger poles and it sometimes causes them to either miss or double-seed and double-fertilize cropland, said Cut Bank-area farmer Don Bradley, who served on an earlier advisory committee, which summarized landowner concerns.

"I think the compromises sound fair and will help lessen the impact of the power lines on agriculture," Bradley said.

Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud, director of the Port of Northern Montana, is also pleased with the recommendations and said he believes the wind farms will benefit landowners.



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