‘Arbitrary’ Transmission Fee Threatens Montana Wind Development


Montana’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has proposed retaining an extra transmission fee that the Sierra Club says is a key obstacle in keeping Montana wind developers from starting new projects in the state.

According to the group, BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer has issued a draft decision that would leave in place the extra fee paid by Montana energy providers to access the Eastern Intertie, a 90-mile section of a BPA transmission line that connects eastern Montana’s electricity grid to BPA’s transmission network, which spans western Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The Sierra Club explains that most electricity providers pay a single network rate to move their electricity across the agency’s 15,000-mile transmission network. But those transmitting electricity originating in Montana have to pay the general network rate plus an additional $2 extra per megawatt-hour of energy transmitted to access the intertie.

Renewable energy advocates are urging the BPA administrator to reverse its proposed decision and jettison the extra charge in the final rate decision, which is expected in late July.

“This federal agency is holding back economic growth in rural Montana communities,” states Mike Scott, Montana organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “For years, BPA has tipped the scales against Montana wind developers, putting us two steps behind neighboring states in building wind projects. They’ve still got a chance to the right thing, drop this fee and let Montana compete in a free market.”

If finalized, the decision would also be a setback for Pacific Northwest energy customers who are demanding a cleaner energy grid, says the Sierra Club, citing recent studies showing that Montana wind resources complement the output of wind farms in eastern Washington and match up ideally with the energy demand characteristics of the Pacific Northwest.

Notably, according to the Sierra Club, Mainzer’s proposal is counter to pleas from a broad coalition of stakeholders who urged him to eliminate the arbitrary fee, including Montana’s Republican-led House of Representatives, Washington’s Democrat-led House of Representatives, Montana’s Public Service Commission, Montana labor unions, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell.

“BPA’s proposed decision refuses to eliminate an unreasonable duplicate charge that has left nearly 200 MW of BPA’s transmission capacity unused since it was developed in the 1980s,” says Aurora Janke, an Earthjustice attorney representing the Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center. “This proposed decision is inconsistent with sound business principles and discriminates against Montana renewable resources seeking to supply energy to the Pacific Northwest.”

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