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Canadian company drops MT-NV transmission project

Fri, 09/17/2010 - 12:13pm
The Associated Press

A Canadian company is shelving for now its plans to build a $3 billion high-voltage power line from south-central Montana to Nevada due to lack of interest from wind farm developers.

"We don't have sufficient commercial interest to proceed with the project at this time," TransCanada's project manager John Dunn said Thursday.

The proposed high-voltage Chinook power line was planned to carry up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity from south-central Montana to south of Las Vegas.

Dunn said Friday that TransCanada was turning its focus to a similar-sized transmission line called the Zephyr, which is planned to run from southeastern Wyoming to south of Las Vegas. The company successfully solicited bids from wind developers to ship 3,000 megawatts on the Zephyr line

Chinook has received less interest, but still could be pursued if more wind developers step forward, Dunn said. He added that an "open season" in which companies can bid for space on the Montana line ends Dec. 16.

"We're not dropping the project. If we had sufficient commercial interest with Chinook we would move forward," he said.

It's unclear what the lack of interest in the Chinook project could mean for NorthWestern Energy's proposed Mountain States Transmission Intertie, said Jim Bellessa, an investment analyst for D.A. Davidson & Co. in Great Falls.

The $1 billion MSTI project calls for shipping wind power from southwestern Montana to southeastern Idaho.

The demise of the Chinook project removes a direct competitor for NorthWestern's transmission line, Bellessa said. However, "if TransCanada is hitting some issues with customer reception, it's conceivable maybe MSTI is, too," he said.

Marketplace uncertainties are leading to delays in the development of large transmission lines, Bellessa said. He noted that a federal renewable energy standard has not been passed. And if California voters approve Proposition 23 in November, renewable energy requirements in that state would be reduced until the unemployment rate drops.

NorthWestern has extended its deadline for accepting bids on reserving space on the MSTI to this fall.

"We're still moving forward on our project and we still have quite a bit of interest in interconnecting to our system," said NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch.

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Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com

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