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Gaelectric Officials Talk Transmission

by Peter Johnson
Great Falls Tribune, December 4, 2010

Two officials with the renewable energy company Gaelectric gave a three-hour briefing to about 20 business and government leaders Friday in Great Falls focused on the complexity of electric transmission.

Great Falls Development Authority President Brett Doney said he asked Gaelectric to give a second briefing in two months in Great Falls because of the topic's importance to the regional economy.

The Golden Triangle could have the best wind energy potential in the country, other than off-shore sites, but Montana needs more energy transmission lines to export the power and make wind farms feasible, Doney said.

Six or seven lines are being proposed, including the proposed "Green Line" in which Gaelectric would be a shipping partner. It would go from Great Falls to Garrison and hook up with larger Bonneville Power Administration lines to the south.

"The wind industry is here, with wind farm leases in place, if we can provide them with the transmission lines, or 'highways and pipelines' to get their energy to the bigger markets," Doney said.

Van Jamison, Gaelectric LLC vice president for strategic operations in Helena, concurred.

"There's no shortage of wind in Montana," he said, adding that wind energy promoters could practically throw a dart at a map of Montana and find a better wind farm site than even the best such sites in Washington and Oregon.

"But Montana needs better transmission," he said, adding that the state's transmission lines were largely built from 1910 to the late 1950s for a state of 900,000. They would serve the state now, except for the opportunity to develop and export far more energy generation, he said.

A subsidiary of an Irish company, Gaelectric set up shop in Montana four years ago.

Company officials have said they plan to build 500 megawatt wind parks east of Belt and near Geyer.

But Friday, company transmission head Ted Williams and Jamison talked more about the travails of building and security power on transmission lines.

They noted the company has pledged $18 million to reserve 460 megawatts of power on a BPA line toward Washington state, aside from associated costs of building wind farms and partnering with the Green Line to ship the rest of the power.

Civil engineer Lyle Meeks said he and others were sometimes confused during the presentation.

"It helped me start to realize the regulatory, financial and physical plant complexity that goes into developing and buying a share in transition lines," Meeks said.

The complex financial and regulatory rules imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Bonneville Power Administration were disturbing, he said.

"I was impressed that Gaelectric, despite such obstacles and other construction costs, made such a huge investment just for the right to secure part of its needed transmission line capacity," Meeks said.

Peter Johnson
Gaelectric Officials Talk Transmission
Great Falls Tribune, December 4, 2010

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