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Montana Bulk Transmission Siting & Regulation(8-MT)

The electrical grid in Montana is part of both the Eastern and Western Interconnection power grids and is part of two NERC regions - the Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO) and Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC). MRO's service territory extends from the state of Nebraska north to the Provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and includes part of Montana and east to include all of North Dakota and Minnesota and portions of South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. WECC's service territory extends from Canada to Mexico. It includes the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, the northern portion of Baja California, Mexico, and all or portions of the 14 Western states between. The WECC is the Regional Entity responsible for coordinating and promoting Bulk Electric System reliability in the Western Interconnection, including in Montana. The MRO serves a similar function in its service territory within the Eastern Interconnection. In addition, MRO and WECC provide an environment for coordinating the operating and planning activities of its members as set forth in their Bylaws.

In addition, some transmission owners in Montana are part of the Northern Tier Transmission Group (NTTG). The NTTG is a group of transmission providers and customers that are actively involved in the sale and purchase of transmission capacity of the power grid that delivers electricity to customers in the Northwest and Mountain States. Transmission owners serving this territory work in conjunction with state governments, customers, and other stakeholders to improve the operations of and chart the future for the grid that links all of these service territories.

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (MISO) is an idenpendent System Operator (ISO) and the RTO that provides open-access transmission service and monitors the transmission system throughout the Midwest United States and Manitoba Canada, including Montana.

Montana-Dakota Utiltities Company, NorthWestern Energy, Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative, Inc., Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative, Western Area Power Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration, Columbia Grid, Northern Tier Transmission Group, and Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association provide transmission in the state of Montana.

Division of Energy Promotion and Development

The Montana Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Promotion and Development (EPD) was created in 2007 to foster the responsible development of Montana's vast energy resources. The EPD works directly with Department of Commerce financing programs and other state agencies to facilitate processes related to permitting, siting, workforce, and financial assistance. Facilitating transmission and infrastructure development has been a priority for EPD. The EPD has coordinated development activities and funding requests to the federal government, and advanced proposals to modify transmission rates that would benefit delivery of Montana wind to the Pacific Northwest. EPD also works in conjunction with the MDEQ in both its Energy Planning and Pollution Prevention and Permitting and Compliance programs on transmission planning and siting activities.

EPD facilitates a wind and transmission working group that consists of industry, government, academic and other stakeholders. The group meets to identify obstacles to transmission and wind development and to develop strategies to overcome those obstacles.

Montana has adopted a renewable portfolio standard as well as a tax policy that incentivizes the development of new electrical transmission that will carry renewable energy. The Montana Alberta Tie Line, a 230kV transmission line completed in 2013 connecting Lethbridge to Great Falls utilized those advantageous tax policies as that line’s capacity is contracted to wind farm developers.

The state of Montana has a state-administered siting act for high voltage transmission lines, the MFSA.Montana Code 75-20 An applicant must file an application with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The role of the state in permitting high voltage transmission lines is to approve or deny the Certificate of Compliance and to provide environmental review. Montana Code 75-20-201

Montana law requires that all proposed transmission lines with a voltage over 69kV obtain a CC from the MDEQ; Montana Code 75-20-201 a combined permitting and siting process. The definition of transmission facilities does not include the following facilities.Montana Code 75-20-104

  • A transmission line of 230kV and less, and 10 miles or less in length
  • A transmission line of more than 69kV for which the right-of-way (ROW) agreements or options for more than 75% of the owners who collectively own more than 75% of the property along the centerline has been obtained
  • Transmission lines that are collectively less than 150 miles in length and are required under state or federal regulations and laws, with respect to reliability of service, for an electric generation facility, or to interconnect to a regional transmission grid or secure firm transmission service for a transmission line which the ROW agreements or options for more than 75% of the owners who collectively own more than 75% of the property along the centerline has been obtained
  • Upgrade to an existing transmission line of a design capacity of 50 kilovolts or more to increase that line's capacity, including construction outside the existing easement or ROW
  • Transmission substation, a switchyard, voltage support, or other control equipment
  • Energy storage facility

The CC application is made up of three sections, the Alternative Siting Study, Baseline Study, and Impact Assessment of the transmission line. The MDEQ provides detailed requirements for these sections in their circular “Application Requirements for Linear Facilities”.Major Facility Siting Program - Circular 2 This circular also presents a siting process to narrow the range of alternatives to be followed by the project proponent. Part of the siting process includes public meetings and an overview of public issues and concerns with each alternative. The siting process should result in the alternative that minimizes adverse environmental impacts by avoiding sensitive areas and mitigating impacts. The proponent must provide specific information in the Certificate of Compliance permit application to the DEQ that is defined in Montana Code Section 75-20-211.

The MFSA process also calls for time requirements. The MDEQ must review and notify the applicant of completeness or necessary revisions within 30 days of proponent’s application submittal. Nine months after the proponent submits a complete application, the MDEQ issues its report that details alternatives and environmental findings and opinions.Montana Code 75-20-216 The report generally takes the form of an environmental impact statement. If a project is subject to joint review by the MDEQ and a federal land management agency, the DEQ’s certification decision may be timed to correspond to the record of decision issued by the participating federal agency. State agencies that may review and report to MDEQ information relating to the impact of the proposed project include Montana Departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Transportation. Montana Code 75-20-216 The CC environmental reports will include impacts and monitoring requirements.

Approval of the project through the CC process allows the proponent to utilize eminent domain in securing easement rights as the project will have been deemed public necessity. Montana Code 75-20

Local Process
Under state laws, Montana counties and municipalities are given zoning authority to regulate and restrict the use of land and require permits for buildings within their jurisdiction lines. The Montana Municipal Zoning Enabling Act Montana Code 76-2-301 empowers cities and towns to control zoning and building, while the Montana County Planning and Zoning Commission Act Montana Code 76-2-201 allows counties to adopt zoning ordinances. Land use permits will be required for each local government associated with the transmission lines, however, regulations will vary.

The MDEQ can refuse to apply any local law or regulation, including zoning, if it finds that as applied to the proposed facility, the law or regulation is unreasonably restrictive in view of the existing technology, cost and need of consumers.Montana Code 75-20-301

More Information

Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

Montana Federal

Transmission Siting: Regulated transmission facilities may need a Certificate of Compliance. MCA 75-20-104(8).
Transmission Siting Agency: Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Transmission Siting Threshold: To construct a facility, which includes electric transmission lines and associated facilities of 69 kV or more.
Transmission Siting Act: Montana—MT. Code. Ann. §§75-20 et seq., Major Facility Siting Act.
Preemptive Authority: The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has the authority to approve or deny the required Certificate of Compliance and can refuse to apply any local law or regulation if MDEQ determines that, when applied to the proposed facility, the law or regulation is unreasonably restrictive in view of the existing technology, of factors of cost and economics, or of the needs of consumers.
Processing Timeframe: 9 months, as little as 90 days for expedited review. Mont. Code Ann. §75-20-216, Mont. Code Ann. §75-20-231.