Wind on the horizon

On Jan. 10, NaturEner, an international wind energy developer, announced that it had secured a $320 million loan from Morgan Stanley that will allow it to begin constructing a years-in-the-making, 189-megawatt wind farm between Shelby and the Canadian border. The project, known as Rim Rock, will boost Montana’s wind energy capacity by about 50 percent, to nearly 600 megawatts.

On Jan. 11, a Montana judge ruled that a company attempting to build a transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, which would move power generated by Rim Rock and other energy sources, has the authority to condemn private property in order to do so.

District Judge Nels Swandal ruled that House Bill 198, a law passed by the 2011 Montana Legislature to allow for the development of the Montana Alberta Tie Line, or MATL, by clarifying a public utility’s power of eminent domain, is constitutional. The decision comes as a blow to landowners who challenged the law and have refused to sell easements to transmission-line developer Montana Alberta Tie Line LLP, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Enbridge.

While the energy generated by Rim Rock’s 126 turbines will eventually flow along MATL, San Diego Gas & Electric Company is using it to meet California’s renewable portfolio standard, which is set to increase to 33 percent by 2020. The utility will invest $285 million in the project for the renewable energy credits, but immediately sell the power back to NaturEner. Such arrangements with California utilities might become more common had the state not passed a law last year limiting utilities’ ability to meet the renewable portfolio standard with out-of-state credits.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who helped broker the deal, said it will create “hundreds of good-paying construction jobs and be a sustainable property tax base for local governments.” Sen. Max Baucus, who helped craft a federal renewable energy tax credit that made the project possible, said it’s “great news for Montana jobs and American energy security.”

Rim Rock will offset more than 389,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. Still, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 17.1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year by Montana’s coal-fired Colstrip power plant, the eighth-biggest emitter in the country, according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency study.

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