Expanding the West's transmission network is a critical piece of the Obama administration's renewable energy agenda. But when power line routes intersect with private land, property rights conflicts are inevitable. Photo courtesy of DOE.
A Montana judge's decision that an energy company cannot seize private property to build an electricity transmission line through the state has sent shudders through Montana's political and economic development communities, who fear the case could prevent the state from fully tapping its vast wind power resource.
At issue is Montana District Court Judge Laurie McKinnon's decision last week that the developers of the Montana Alberta Tie Line do not have authority to use eminent domain to take private property along the 215-mile-long transmission line route. The MATL project is designed to carry wind-generated electricity from the Great Falls, Mont., area across the Canadian border into Lethbridge, Alberta.
McKinnon ruled that only the state retains authority to condemn and seize private parcels, although she allowed that the Montana Legislature could grant eminent domain authority to transmission line developers or other special interests.
That is exactly what Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said he plans to do next month when the Legislature kicks off a 90-day session.