T&D World Magazine

NorthWestern Energy Adds Additional Route Options to Jack Rabbit-Big Sky Transmission Line

In response to local residential concerns over a planned upgrade of its transmission line between the Jack Rabbit Substation near Four Corners and Big Sky, NorthWestern Energy is now evaluating alternative routes for the section of line that is currently located on Magenta Road.

While the Magenta Road portion is still under consideration, the company has added three potential alternative routes in the neighborhood located roughly south and west of Four Corners. The proposed route is unchanged along Highway 191 from South of Lower Rainbow Road to the Meadow Village Substation in Big Sky.

“Initial plans called for building the new line entirely parallel to the existing line which will be removed when the new line is placed into service, but we’re sensitive to concerns expressed by residents along Magenta Road about the size of the new line in comparison to their unusually narrow street,” said Dave Gates, Vice President of Wholesale Operations. “At the same time we recognize that moving the line to another location in the neighborhood poses concerns for newly affected residents, so we’ve amended and reposted the public notice to give them the opportunity to fully participate in the process.”

The existing line and the proposed alternative routes are primarily located on public rights-of way under the jurisdiction of Gallatin County. Maps that show details of the alternative routes under consideration are included with the public notice that appears in three local newspapers and they are posted on the company’s Web site.

NorthWestern Energy plans to replace the existing 69-kV line with a 161-kV line to provide additional capacity and reliability to serve customers in southwest Montana. This is an area that has experienced significant growth in recent years and that growth is expected to continue over the next 20 years. NorthWestern typically provides at least two distinct and geographically separate routes for most of the communities it serves to provide continued reliability in the event one line is out of service or threatened by wildfire. This line and another line that comes in from the west serve Big Sky and the Gallatin Canyon.

The company plans to build the new line under a statutory exclusion from the Montana Major Facility Siting Act. Under Section 75-20-104(8)(a)(ii), MCA, the line would be excluded from Siting Act coverage if NorthWestern obtains right-of-way agreements or options for a right-of-way from more than 75 percent of the landowners who collectively own more than 75 percent of the property along which the new line is to be located.

If the company is unable to obtain the statutory exclusion, the Siting Act's full public and agency review provisions will apply to the new line. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which administers the Siting Act, will then determine the line location.

Discussions with landowners along the new proposed routes cannot begin until 60 days following publication of the last public notice. The company is plans to host an Open House for residents later this fall to provide information about the project and how to participate in the process.
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