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.


Montana grants land easements for Keystone XL Pipeline

The Montana Land Board has voted to grant easements for the Keystone XL pipeline.

These leases would allow the company Trans-Canada to build their pipeline through property owned by the state of Montana as long as the project passes environmental review.

The controversial proposed pipeline still has a long process ahead of it before construction can begin.

The last action item of Governor Brian Schweitzer’s last meeting with the Montana Land Board was an item of national interest on Monday–granting nearly 40 land easements to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

TransCanada needs these easements to cross the Keystone Pipeline through parcels of state land as it makes its way south. The controversial pipeline would run from oil sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

Supporters say the project would help the US toward its goal of North American energy independence and also say it would create jobs.

Opponents fault the environmental impacts from Keystone. Several of those critics made their opinions known to the Land Board. College student Colton Hash pointed out extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands results in the release of more greenhouse gas emissions than more conventional measures.

“The impacts from climate change we should be taking very seriously especially in relation to Montana’s agriculture and Montana’s wildfires,” Hash said.

“We are not dealing with your everyday crude oil in this pipeline,” said Executive Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

The tar extracted from the sands in Canada needs to be mixed with chemicals in order to produce a type of synthetic crude oil. Jensen says this mixture has not been properly tested for its impacts on aquatic environments, and the 36 inch wide keystone pipeline would cross under several Montana rivers.

TransCanada says it has agreed to bury the pipeline 40 feet beneath the bed of major Montana rivers.

Governor Schweitzer says those with environmental concerns are coming to the wrong place in making these arguments.

“Asking the Land Board to assess the environmental capabilities of any particular case would be like going to an auto mechanic and asking him to fix your jet,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer says the Land Board simply votes whether or not to grant leases or easements for these types of projects.

A company like TransCanada cannot move forward with their project unless it passes the permitting process at the Department of Environmental Quality. Keystone has passed this permitting from DEQ.

It’s just another step in a long process for the pipeline.

The project faces court battles in other states. Keystone also needs Presidential approval for crossing international borders.

Montana gets paid once this Presidential permit is granted.

The Land Board sold the 50-year easements to TransCanada for over $740 thousand dollars. The money would go to Montana schools.