While reading up on Montana pipeline siting law earlier this summer, I came across a provision that nobody involved had mentioned. There’s a statute requiring the Montana Consumer Counsel to do a customer fiscal impact analysis when big pipelines and electric transmission lines are proposed. The idea is to find out in advance how electricity consumers will be affected, including their rates, but in other ways too. In the case of a pipeline as big as Keystone XL, ratepayer impacts may include financing the capital cost of new transmission and electrical generation facilities to run the pipeline’s six big pumping stations in Montana – a 1000 kW load each. That’s a 6 MW load in Montana alone, 30 MW for the 30 pumping stations along the whole route.
Now staff at the Consumer Counsel’s office have agreed to a request by Northern Plains Resource Council and Plains Justice to perform the customer fiscal impact analysis (better late than never). We’ll be following up to make sure that the statute’s requirements for public hearings and full consideration in the Major Facilities Siting Act process are carried out. And we certainly look forward to seeing that analysis.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement anticipates that “(d)uring operation, the pump stations would consume at least as much electrical power as other
customers currently use in the area…. (I)t may … result in issues for local co-ops
regarding procurement of additional energy supplies.” So we’re talking about some major change at small rural electric cooperatives such as Big Flat, NorVal, Tongue River, and McCone, as well as investor-owned Montana-Dakota Utilities. In Montana alone, 147.4 miles of new transmission lines (429.1 for the full route) will be needed. Easements on public and private land will be purchased either by negotiation or by condemnation.
The DEIS also says that local electrical power providers will be responsible for “ROW acquisition, ROW clearing, construction, site restoration, cleanup, and obtaining any necessary approvals or authorizations from federal, state and local governments.” Elsewhere, the DEIS notes that “(a)pplications for financing have been or may be submitted to (Rural Utilities Service) by several rural electric cooperatives to enable the cooperatives’ provision of electricity to pump stations that would serve the Project.” It appears, then, that TransCanada expects taxpayers and ratepayers to subsidize its electrical needs.
Montana Consumer Counsel is a somewhat obscure office in state government that represents Montana’s utility and transportation consuming public in hearings before the Public Service Commission and the state and federal courts and administrative agencies. The Montana Consumer Counsel is part of the legislative branch, overseen by the Legislative Consumer Committee. Members of the committee are Rep. Pat Noonan (D-Ramsay), Rep. Tom Berry (R-Roundup), Sen. Terry Murphy (R-Cardwell), and Sen. Joe Tropila (D-Great Falls). The Consumer Counsel himself, Robert A. Nelson, is the chief staffer to the Legislative Consumer Committee. His staff consists of two utility analysts, an economist, another attorney, and a secretary.