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DEQ issues go-ahead permit for MATL power line; State cites potential for wind development

Potential wind-farm development was the overriding reason why the state Department of Environmental Quality approved the proposed high-voltage power line that would tread its way across eastern Teton County between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alta. Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., or MATL, with offices in Calgary, Alta., submitted an application under DEQ's Major Facility Siting Act program on Dec. 1, 2005, providing a variety of reasons why its proposed privately-owned, 230-kilovolt transmission line would benefit the region. ... Aggrieved parties who believe they are adversely affected by DEQ's decision have 30 days to appeal.

Potential wind-farm development was the overriding reason why the state Department of Environmental Quality approved the proposed high-voltage power line that would tread its way across eastern Teton County between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alta.

Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., or MATL, with offices in Calgary, Alta., submitted an application under DEQ's Major Facility Siting Act program on Dec. 1, 2005, providing a variety of reasons why its proposed privately-owned, 230-kilovolt transmission line would benefit the region.

MATL said the power line would facilitate the development of additional sources of generation and improve transmission-system reliability in Montana and Alberta, among other things.

Three years and two rounds of environmental impact statements later, DEQ finally issued a certificate of compliance to MATL on Oct. 22. Aggrieved parties who believe they are adversely affected by DEQ's decision have 30 days to appeal.

State law mandates that projects the size of MATL's, a 133-mile long transmission line crossing all or part of four counties, go through an environmental-review process and a determination of the need for the facility. MATL's proposed... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Potential wind-farm development was the overriding reason why the state Department of Environmental Quality approved the proposed high-voltage power line that would tread its way across eastern Teton County between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alta.

Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., or MATL, with offices in Calgary, Alta., submitted an application under DEQ's Major Facility Siting Act program on Dec. 1, 2005, providing a variety of reasons why its proposed privately-owned, 230-kilovolt transmission line would benefit the region.

MATL said the power line would facilitate the development of additional sources of generation and improve transmission-system reliability in Montana and Alberta, among other things.

Three years and two rounds of environmental impact statements later, DEQ finally issued a certificate of compliance to MATL on Oct. 22. Aggrieved parties who believe they are adversely affected by DEQ's decision have 30 days to appeal.

State law mandates that projects the size of MATL's, a 133-mile long transmission line crossing all or part of four counties, go through an environmental-review process and a determination of the need for the facility. MATL's proposed transmission line is 215 miles long including the length in Alberta.

Posted on DEQ's Web site, the certificate of compliance states that DEQ determined that the MATL line was needed because developers of proposed wind farms purchased all of the proposed line's electrical capacity.

The requirement that wind farms be built, however, is not part of the certificate. According to MATL, NaturEner, a renewable-energy company from Spain, has contracted for 300 megawatts northbound to Lethbridge. In addition, Illinois-based Invenergy L.L.C., and Wind Hunter L.L.C., a subsidiary of Texas-based Green Hunter Energy Inc., have contracted for 180 mw and 120 mw, respectively, for a total of 300 mw southbound.

The certificate of compliance allows MATL to petition for condemnation proceedings in the event that the company cannot reach an easement agreement with a particular landowner in the line's right-of-way.

The 16-page certificate, with an additional set of three attachments, lists the line's unavoidable impacts, but stated that the line's construction and operation with modifications made by DEQ "minimizes adverse environmental impacts considering the state of available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives."

Although direct economic impacts would be minimal at the state level, the certificate reads, and construction benefits would be short term, the indirect benefits and costs of wind-farm construction and operation in the area would create 530 to 1,400 short-term jobs.

Wind farms would provide Montanans with $2.3 million to $6 million annually from plant operations and maintenance expenses.

In theory, 400 wind turbines each generating 1.5-mw, would be able to be built between Great Falls and the Canadian border because they could access the MATL line. The electric grid south of Great Falls, however, is constrained, which would affect the 300-mw southbound unless additional transmission lines are built.

The wind projects would generate $2.3 million to $8 million per year in county revenue from property taxes along with $1 million to $2.7 million per year in payments to local landowners who have turbines on their land, according to DEQ.

"The benefits to the public and the state of Montana outweigh the costs to landowners from the line," DEQ said. "Farming costs would be just over $210,000 per year after compensation, but tax revenue benefits alone would be about $730,000 per year to the state."

MATL would profit, the certificate notes, and the public would benefit from local tax revenues to counties in which the line is located, state tax revenues from the line, a short-term boost to local economies from construction, access to the grid for future electricity generation, and potentially easier access to new spot electricity markets within which Montana utilities could buy and sell electricity.

"The western grid may also operate more efficiently," the certificate notes.

The review process listed three action alternatives, and DEQ determined that the additional cost to MATL of constructing Alternative 4 over Alternative 2 would be greater than the additional cost to farmers of Alternative 2 over Alternative 4.

Therefore, the selected location for the line, which has segments of both alternatives, minimizes the "net present value" of costs to MATL and to the public after mitigation measures are considered.

The final route, set forth in Attachment 3, includes local routing options, and does not, according to DEQ, add significantly to MATL's overall costs.

The final route, however, retains the diagonal design between Conrad and Dutton, which had been opposed by a group of farmers.

The selected route represents a "best balance," DEQ said, on the basis of mostly avoiding impacts to farmland, cost, avoiding houses, public acceptance, paralleling existing corridors and use of public lands.

Farmers would experience greater costs from the loss of farming acreage and increased difficulty with farming because of the poles in fields, but some of these costs would be mitigated by payments from MATL, the certificate states.

DEQ said affected farmers taken as a whole would be expected to come out roughly even, based on MATL's proposed compensation and estimated 2007 prices for farming inputs and crop prices. If one uses estimated 2008 prices, DEQ reported, estimates that represent historically high prices, farmers as a whole may not be fully compensated for their additional costs.

The certificate does not stipulate the amount of compensation MATL proposes to pay farmers but the company is offering an annual per-pole payment, something that has not been provided by utility companies operating transmission lines in the past.

DEQ provided a reason for designating the final route along each segment of the proposed corridor between Great Falls and the border. To read the full certificate, visit the Web site, www.deq.mt.gov, and click on the link for the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. project.

According to DEQ, visual impacts, loss of wildlife habitat, soil erosion and cultural resource impacts are not sufficiently large enough to outweigh the line's benefits.

The certificate's eight-page attachment 1 contains measures proposed by MATL to minimize the adverse environmental impacts from obtaining a 105-foot-wide right-of-way and erecting monopoles or H-frame double poles across rangeland and farmland.

The list of measures is identical to those in the final environmental impact statement, but several additional measures were included in the certificate regarding interference with other structures and a requirement to mitigate any adverse effects to GPS systems.

The 34-page attachment 2 contains environmental specifications developed by DEQ to minimize adverse environmental impacts during construction, among other things.

MATL must construct 83.6 miles of the 133.5-mile-long line using monopoles wherever the line crosses cropland and land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program at the time of construction.

DEQ directed that, if reasonably possible, the poles would be located along field boundaries. Where span lengths are too long and structures must be located within field boundaries, structures should be placed at the edge of field strips, in consultation with affected landowners.

A person aggrieved by DEQ's decision to grant MATL a certificate of compliance may within 30 days appeal the decision to the agency under the contested-case procedures of Montana law. He or she may also obtain judicial review of the decision by the filing of a petition in a state district court.

MATL is waiting for a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy that jointly participated in the line's review with DEQ and a right-of-way grant from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the two last approvals that would be required south of the border.

MATL has received project approval in Alberta but a contingent of affected landowners has been given leave to appeal. The hearing in an Alberta court is scheduled for Jan. 13, 2009.


Source: http://www.choteauacantha.c...

OCT 30 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/17705-deq-issues-go-ahead-permit-for-matl-power-line-state-cites-potential-for-wind-development
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