GREAT FALLS (AP)
The U.S. Department of Energy plans its toughest environmental review of the proposed power transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, after farmers complained about the proposed type and routing of the power poles. In March, the U.S. Department of Energy and Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued a draft environmental study of the 230-kilovolt line. But on June 1, after concluding the project might have “a significant effect upon the environment,” the DOE announced it would complete an environmental impact statement because the joint review no longer was sufficient. Complaints from farmers prompted the extra study, said Ellen Russell, a senior project manager with the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability in Washington, D.C. Of the agency's three levels of review, the EIS is the highest. “The issue of public controversy is enough to cause the DOE to look at this document,” Russell said Monday. The 203-mile line, with about 130 miles in Montana, would connect the Alberta electric grid with NorthWestern Energy’s transmission system in Montana, allowing up to 300 megawatts of power to be shipped in each direction. Wind farm developers have said the line is critical to construction of their projects. Three companies have already signed up to use capacity on the line to ship power from wind farms they’re planning between Great Falls and the Canadian border. But some farmers who live along the route object to the use of H-frame poles and placing poles diagonally, arguing both make the transmission line more difficult and expensive to maneuver around. They’re calling for the use of single poles, with no diagonal crossings. “It certainly seems to be an opportunity for us to keep telling the same story,” Dutton-area farmer Jerry McCrae said of the additional environmental review. Jim Williams of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., which is proposing the line, said the more extensive review won’t necessarily delay the project. He said the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board hasn't scheduled public hearings until October. In April, Canada’s National Energy Board, the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Energy, approved a permit for the tie line. At the end of May, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the company’s tariff application, which governs prices to use the transmission line.