Montana Alberta Tie Ltd (MATL), based in Calgary, plans to build a 230 kV alternating current line stretching 326 kilometres from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Great Falls, Montana. The company has filed applications for regulatory approval from the US Department of Energy, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Canada's National Energy Board and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.
"We're hopeful that we will obtain all of the necessary permits and approvals by the end of the summer," says MATL's Bob Williams, who is charged with shepherding the project through the regulatory processes. "That would mean we would be starting construction in the fall some time. If all goes according to plan we would expect to be in service around the end of the first quarter of 2007."
The proposal has run into some opposition from environmental groups in Alberta, who are concerned the line will trigger an increase in coal-fired electricity for export south. But Williams say the results of MATL's open season auction of transmission rights, held in early 2005, do not bear that out.
The two shippers that have already signed up for long term capacity rights on the line both intend to develop wind farms in Montana, he says. GE Energy has reserved 175 MW to transport wind production from a planned project near Cut Bank, Montana, south to Great Falls. Great Plains Wind and Energy is planning a wind project in the same area and has reserved 120 MW to ship its output north to Lethbridge. The line has a capacity of 300 MW in each direction.
"We have had further serious expressions of interest from other wind farm developers, so we are confident that the remaining unsold capacity will be fully subscribed. And it certainly could all go to future wind farms," says Williams. "What is really happening is this transmission line is making it possible to develop economic large scale wind farms that would not otherwise be developed because none of the existing transmission lines in this area, where there are any at all, have the capacity that our line has."
There is some interest in the line from wind power developers in southern Alberta, says Williams, but most is coming from Montana, particularly the windy north central part of the state. "I think people in Montana have seen the impressive development of wind farms in Alberta and are saying we could do that to. But the problem they have had in the past is that there isn't any high capacity transmission in that part of the state. If you can't get your wind energy to market, you are stymied."
The wind industry's attraction to the line came as something of a surprise to MATL, which had expected to draw customers from the existing, fossil-fuelled generation base, particularly in Alberta, which has a surplus of generating capacity and where power producers must link to US markets through existing interconnections with the neighbouring provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan.