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Hearing held for power line that would link Montana, Alberta

Mar 12, 2008 - The Associated Press

State and environmental leaders held the first of three public hearings Tuesday to discuss a proposed power line that would connect Montana's power grid to Canada.

The project, known as the Montana Alberta Tie Line, is proposed by a subsidiary of Toronto-based Tonbridge Power and would extend 230 miles - 129 of them in Montana - from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Great Falls.

Three developers who are planning wind farms along the route have purchased shipping capacity on the line.

"The environmental impacts are minimal and the economic benefits are great," said Cheryl Curry of the Pondera Regional Port Authority.

State Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby, told officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Department of Energy, who must permit the line, that north central Montanans had endured extreme drought, declining school enrollment and declining tax bases.

He said it was an understatement to say that the majority of his constituents enthusiastically support the power line.

But the proposal drew some concern from farmers.

Jerry McRae, a farmer near Dutton, said MATL is offering a one-time payment of $500 per structure on land and yearly payments of $59.08 per structure to offset the hardship of farming around the poles.

He called the offer "completely unacceptable."

Bob Williams, MATL's vice president regulatory, said single poles are now planned along 53 miles where the transmission line crosses diagonally to ease the impact on farmers. Twenty-five miles of single poles were originally planned.

The proposed transmission line would serve as a conduit for 600 megawatts of electricity, with 300 megawatts traveling in each direction, between the Alberta Interconnected Electric System and the electric transmission network in Montana. It would be the first line to directly connect the Alberta and Montana power grids.

Tony Como, director of permitting and citing for the DOE, said a decision on whether to permit the project could be made by May or June.

Meanwhile, the DEQ's Tom Ring said the state must find that the line has a minimal impact on the environment and is consistent with regional plans for expansion of the power grid. The project also must serve the public's interest, he said.

The power line already has been permitted by Canada's National Energy Board and has received conditional approval from the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.

In the U.S., state and federal officials released an environmental study in March 2007 but decided to do additional work after the public raised concerns. A draft environmental impact statement was released in February.


Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com