Recognizing the state’s vast energy production potential, federal and state officials recently announced projects to tap one of Montana’s greatest underdeveloped natural resources.

Laying the groundwork for more development, the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced a large-scale transmission project to be financed using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Western Area Power Administration will use borrowing authority under the Recovery Act to help build the $213 million Montana-Alberta Tie Limited (MATL) transmission project. The 230-kilovolt transmission project will be capable of delivering 300–600 megawatts of clean, renewable wind energy—enough to power 150,000 to 300,000 homes—between Great Falls, Mont., and Lethbridge, Alberta. Almost two-thirds of the 214-mile transmission line will be located on U.S. soil.

The MATL project will be funded through a public-private partnership between the Western Area Power Administration and a private contractor with up to $161 million of the total project costs funded through Western’s Recovery Act borrowing authority. Construction is anticipated to begin by late 2009, with the line to be energized as early as 2010.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has wasted no time in capitalizing on the opportunity the new line presents. This summer he met with companies in Germany and Spain regarding projects, including wind-turbine production as well as wind-power generation and transmission, that will help transform the state into nothing less than a full service hub for wind power.

One of the projects discussed was a “transmission collector system” that will bring power from a large number of wind-farm sites to several major transmission systems that are under development, including the MATL.

“This type of collector system will be needed to bring power from the wind-farms developed in Montana to long-distance major transmission lines, which can move the renewable power to large energy-consuming markets in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and California,” Schweitzer said. “Even Midwest markets can be opened up by a properly designed collector system.”

According to Schweitzer’s Web site, studies on wind potential consistently place Montana as one of the top states in the nation for overall wind-energy development potential. Judging by recent trends, the state is on the right track to tap into the plentiful resource. Montana has increased wind-energy generation from 1 MW in 2004 to 271.5 MW today, the fastest growth rate in the nation.