MATL transmission line engine is running, may be here by 2011

14_matlBy Buck Traxler, I-O Editor

Asking when the Montana Alberta Tie Line (MATL) will begin construction in Pondera County will get you a nebulous answer,  at the present.

Material for the project is sitting at a staging site near Shelby. Construction slated earlier this month with phase one being an electrical substation at Cut Bank and moving on north to Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

And while construction has begun, going north, the time table for Pondera County is still uncertain. However, it is estimated the line construction in this segment is scheduled for early 2011.

The MATL line is a 300-megawatt electrical transmission line that will allow movement of power between Alberta and Montana

The 214-mile line will tie into the Alberta grid at a new substation located nine miles northeast of Lethbridge.

The power lines will run about 81 miles south to the border and from there another 133 miles south to a NorthWestern Energy substation in Great Falls.

The project will go through four northcentral Montana counties, Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Cascade. Construction time is estimated to be about six months with a cost of $209 million.

Between 45 and 50 miles of the transmission line poles will be in Pondera County. Present plans call for 240 steel monopole structures and 30 wood H-frame structures in the county.

The monopoles will be constructed of steel while the H-frame poles will be made of laminated wood.

Depending on the study of soil and topography of the land, the H-frame poles will average about 65 feet in height with the single pole being about 90 feet in height.

Also depending on soil, surrounding features and topography, mono-poles will average about 459 feet apart with the H-frames approximately 787 feet apart.

The wire transmitting the electrical power is 1.5 inches in diameter and is made with 54 strands of high-grade aluminum wire weaved over 19 stainless steel strands to form a single cable. The aluminum carries the current while the steel provides tensile strength.

Payments to landowners will range between $75 per pole plus guidelines to $250 per pole plus guidelines for irrigated land.

“We have exceeded fair market value and have been well accepted,” says Gene Kammerman of DJ&A, PC at their Conrad office in the od BNSF depot building.

They are the engineers, planners and surveyors for the transmission project.

Kammerman also indicated that MATL has set a precedent by paying a lone-time payment for crop damage within the easement for the power poles.

Of the four counties that will have lines go through them, Pondera appears to be a big winner in tax benefits. It is estimated the county will be paid between $1.038 to $1.182 million in tax benefits. Bear in mind these figures are early estimates and may be revised once the transmission lines are in.

Once the lines are up and in service, it will open the doors in northcentral Montana for wind development.

Darryl James of Gallatin Public Affairs tells the I-O, “Purchase agreements for all of the capacity of the MATL line are currently held by wind shippers and the Western Area Power Administration. MATL will not play a role in the development of wind power.”

There are numerous wind projects under development that will take advantage of this and future transmission projects.

One of those is a wind farm called Rim Rock north of Hwy. 2 in Glacier and Toole counties coming from a company called NaturEner USA.

Nevertheless, not all is rosy on the horizon.

Monday evening in Great Falls there was a meeting, of about 60 people reported by the Great Falls Triune, who are in opposition to the transmission line.

MATL representatives were not at the meeting apparently being told in advance they would not be allowed in.

It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this opposition will have on a project whose engine is up and running.