Renewable energy advocate thinks Montana’s wind industry has a bright future

windmill

Montana ranks among the top five states in the country for wind energy potential, and a handful of major wind farms have sprouted up on our windy plains in recent years. The Portland-based Renewable Northwest Project,  which advocates for renewable energy development in the Northwest, estimates Montana has added 650 megawatts of generating capacity from renewable energy and over a billion dollars in new investment. Still, renewables provide only about 5 percent of the total energy consumed in the Northwest. In this feature interview, the Executive Director of the Renewable Northwest Project, Rachel Shimshak, talks with News Director Sally Mauk about the benefits of new wind development – and the obstacles to that development…

MATL clearing final state easement hurdles before activation

A controversial transmission line for Montana wind energy is clearing its final obstacles before it becomes a reality.

The state Land Board approved final easements for the Montana-Alberta-Tie-Line (MATL) earlier this week.

The line could be operational by early 2013.

Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Mary Sexton says the Land Board granting 11 final easements to the MATL line means the project is almost a go.

“We had been working with them, our field staff had been working with them for some time,” Sexton said.

She says the state of Montana is one of the last major landowners to complete easements for the Montana-Alberta-Tie-Line to cross its property.

MATL has been in the works since 2007 and it’s created its fair share of contention.

MATL needed to cross a lot of private land in Northern Montana on its over-200 mile path to reach the Canadian border. The state declared MATL had the power of eminent domain, allowing it to cross private property even if the landowner did not provide consent.

Eminent domain is something usually reserved for public utility interests, but MATL is a privately owned utility line, serving a private electric company, Enbridge, in Canada. Landowners filed suit. Then, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing eminent domain in MATL’s case. That law was upheld.

Landowners were compensated for MATL crossing property, including the state of Montana. DNRC Director Sexton says this last round of easements is raising about 100 thousand dollars—most of it going to Montana schools.

“And there will be an additional $13,865 dollars a year in annual payments for the poles and the lines,” she said.

She says most of the building on the line is completed.

“They’re just finishing putting the wires up now and they hope to go live before the end of the year.”

That’s here on the Montana side, Sexton says that electricity will be initially purchased by Glacier Electric, an electric co-op in North Central Montana. Construction is scheduled to finish a few months later for Enbridge on the Canadian side, where most of the power is going. They also have some final regulatory procedures to finish.

“And then it will hook into a major East-West line in Canada,” Sexton said. Once completed MATL will provide the first line for distributing wind energy generated in Northern Montana.

The state Department of Commerce touts Montana as leading the nation in wind energy potential.