Articles from Montana
Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected. The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.
Next week, state utility regulators will give NorthWestern Energy the green light to build a new natural gas-fired power plant near Anaconda - a plant estimated to raise the average homeowner's electric rates by $35 to $50 a year in 2011. ...Electric utilities need a source of power they can draw on to keep their system in electrical balance, to fill in gaps caused by fluctuating demand for power or intermittent power sources such as wind.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Friday vetoed three bills - one to provide a capital-gains tax credits as an incentive for businesses and two bills to deal with renewable energy.
Despite a recent judicial victory for a big wind-power line between Montana and Canada, developers remain cautious about the project's prospects. At the same time, there's a huge unmet demand for electrical transmission lines to get wind-generated power from resource-rich Montana to the rest of power-parched America. "We're currently monitoring as many as 50 projects ...," said Chantel McCormick, senior energy development specialist for the Montana Department of Commerce.
At the center of conflicts over the bill stands an esoteric commodity known as a renewable energy credit. These certificates - often called RECs or 'wrecks' - are granted to developers for each megawatt hour of clean power generated. ...the utility has argued the measure is only intended to address what is essentially a double requirement for renewable purchases that results in higher bills for its customers.
A group of southern Alberta landowners has lost its fight to block a proposed power line that would run from Lethbridge into Montana. The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled that the province's energy regulator was right when it said it didn't have the power to re-examine the location of the line's corridor, which had already been approved by the National Energy Board.
The state has approved the construction of up to 15 wind turbines on 3,080 acres of school-trust land as part of a 300-megawatt wind farm five miles northeast of Martinsdale. ...The 58-megawatt first phase will cost an estimated $200 million, and include the seven to 15 turbines on state land plus additional turbines on adjacent private land.
Jim Hicks summed up the sentiment of everyone in a crowd of nearly 200 people who packed a meeting Thursday evening in Butte to hear about a proposed power line that might come close to their homes. "It would basically make half of my ranch worthless," Hicks said, with his comments drawing loud applause. "What benefits would this provide to southwestern Montana?"
NorthWestern Energy may have the juice, but the people have the power. That was the overwhelming message Wednesday evening when area residents packed council chambers to tell commissioners they oppose the utility company's plans for a major transmission line through southwestern Montana. The crowd spilled into the hallway where another roughly 30 people stood and listened as residents voiced their concerns about the 500-kilovolt power line ruining the visual aesthetics of their rural property.
But we can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, the state should be taking steps to indemnify itself against the possibility, however remote, of "ghost wind farms" - sprawling graveyards with 30-story tombstones in the event a developer or the technology fails.
Developer Tonbridge Power Inc. announced Tuesday that it has successfully negotiated settlements with four Montana landowners who had objected to its Montana Alberta Tie Line transmission project. "What it means is there are no further holdups for construction of this line in the state of Montana," said Richard Opper, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality. The settlement clears up opposition in Montana, but a group of Alberta landowners continues to fight plans for the $140 million transmission line.
Construction of a $140 million transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, has been delayed at least five months because of appeals in the United States and Canada ...The anticipated start of construction, which was slated for March, is now sometime this fall.
A new study by a leading conservation organization warns that construction of wind farms could pose a high risk to wildlife habitat on 8 million acres of land in Montana. "Wind farms have pretty big footprints, and we want to encourage wind developers to put those wind farms in places with the least amount of impact," said Brian Martin, director of science for the Montana Nature Conservancy, the report's author. "Ecological Risk Assessment of Wind Energy Development in Montana" is the first analysis of where the best winds and wildlife intersect in Big Sky Country.
What may be the most significant environmental-policy/energy bills of the session face a crucial vote today in the Montana House - a vote that could go a long way toward getting the bills through the Legislature. The bills sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, would restrict how citizens and citizen groups can appeal permits for energy projects such as power plants and transmission lines.
A bevy of bills aimed at limiting appeals and litigation of environmental permits for major energy projects are making headway in the Legislature. Those bills have some environmentalists concerned that the 2009 session could end up being one of the worst in recent memory for environmental protection. On Saturday, four bills that would revamp environmental permitting laws advanced in the House and Senate. ...Supporters of energy production say the public's ability to file "endless appeals" kills projects, stymies economic growth and prevents the creation of well-paying jobs in Montana.
Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation recommends wind turbines be allowed on state land as part of what would be the state's largest privately owned wind farm. The Martinsdale Wind Farm is proposed by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy. It would be built on 18,000 acres of private and state land in Wheatland and Meagher counties, five miles northeast of Martinsdale. The DNRC has released a draft environmental impact statement on the project for public comment, which will be accepted until March 13.
The recession may have taken the wind out of the sails of some wind energy projects around the nation, but that's not the case in Wyoming and Montana. Officials in both states say they have not heard of any wind projects being delayed. If there are projects being delayed, they say there are plenty of others still going forward. "The developers are all still exercising their best efforts to move their projects forward," Steve Ellenbecker, energy adviser to Gov. Dave Freudenthal, said.
In the minds of the public, Montana is awash in wind power projects - but a group of small power producers say it's not so and are pushing legislation they say will help make perception become reality. ...The utility, however, is opposing the measure, saying power from the small projects is too costly. "What they're trying to do is tilt the balance, so we have to take more of (their) power, which is ultimately harmful to consumers," said John Fitzpatrick, NorthWestern's executive director of government affairs in Helena.
Thanks largely to the booming energy industry, Montana drivers - particularly those who frequent two-lane highways - have been encountering more and more supersize truck traffic. ...John Hanson, co-owner of Whitewood Transportation in Billings, said the superloads are "kind of becoming an industry standard." Especially when shipping industrial components to places like Canada, where wages are high and conditions harsh, it makes economic sense to assemble ever-larger pieces in foreign factories and put them together on site.
Electricity distributor NorthWestern Energy is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct "open-season" bidding from developers to gain access to two proposed electric transmission lines costing at least $1 billion. The power lines, if approved, could kick start wind farm development in Montana and deliver the renewable electricity produced by wind farms to markets across the West, according to NorthWestern officials. "We want to be the highway," NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said.