Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that the Western Area Power Administration, whose territory covers 15 states including Montana, will provide loan financing of up to US$161 million for the C$215 million project. The money provides a significant boost to plans to build the 345-kilometre, 230 kV project, says Bob Williams, vice-president of regulatory affairs for Montana Alberta Tie (MAT) a subsidiary of Toronto's Tonbridge Power. "That really is the key that will ensure our project moves forward and moves forward soon." MAT hopes to begin construction of the line this autumn and bring it into service sometime in 2011: "We estimate that the total time from the start of construction, including ordering long lead-time equipment, will be about 18 months." The company is still in the process of finalising access agreements with landowners along its route, but Williams says that this will not delay the start of construction. Neither will an appeal by three Alberta landowners, who were seeking to overturn the permit allowing the line to go forward. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed their case in an October 22 decision. "That was the last remaining roadblock," says Williams.
The US government funding for MAT is part of its drive to get shovel-ready transmission projects into construction. The new line will provide access to the grid for a number of proposed wind farms in northern Montana, where the lack of high-capacity transmission has stymied the ability of developers to bring projects online. The company has sold long-term capacity rights to three companies with 600 MW worth of projects in development.