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State office advocates building power lines

Sep 23, 2007 - The Associated Press

Montana - The Schweitzer administration has a new ally in its effort to develop energy in Montana: a state office promoting power lines and other energy infrastructure.

With little fanfare, the administration put $330,000 into the state budget bill this spring to create the Energy Infrastructure Promotion and Development Division.

The division opened its doors late this summer, with three employees and a part-time administrator.

"We thought we needed more people plugging away at this," said Evan Barrett, the state's chief economic development officer. "It's more people, more talent to cover the bases on all the work that has to be done."

Division administrator Marty Tuttle said its top priority is helping coordinate efforts to build the 215-mile Montana Alberta Tie Line, a power line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta.

"We've got tons of wind power waiting to come in on the heels of that line," Tuttle said.

The proposed line has undergone environmental review by the state and faces another level of review from federal officials.

The division is partially the result of efforts by Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, who for several years has backed a state transmission authority that could help finance or coordinate the construction of power lines to encourage new electric power plants in Montana.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer opposed such an authority, saying he doesn't want the state to help finance power lines serving private industry. Yet Barrett says he worked with Olson on the idea of putting money into the budget for the new division, which could help accomplish the same goals.

Barrett said the division provides more people to work with the multiple agencies that deal with power lines, pipelines and other infrastructure needs to export energy that could be generated in Montana.

"There is a huge amount of work, and our limited staff (in the economic development office) couldn't do it all," he said. "We've just got to keep pushing and pushing and move this stuff forward, to open the door to energy development."