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Dueling power plants

Montana State Roundup

July 1, 2008

Dueling power plants

In an area of the state with limited transmission capacity, the struggle of one proposed power plant to attract financing has created an opportunity for another using a different technology.

A consortium of electric cooperatives and the city of Great Falls have sought to build a coal-fired generating plant east of the city for years, but recently the Highwood project suffered serious setbacks, including a failure to secure federal financing and the withdrawal of the consortium's largest member.

Into the breach stepped Montgomery Energy Partners, a Texas-based energy development company eager to serve Montana customers and power-hungry markets outside the state. The firm has proposed building two natural-gas-fired power plants in the area for $400 million—about half the estimated cost of the Highwood plant.

In May federal regulators rejected Montgomery Energy's bid to move ahead of Highwood in the queue for access to available transmission, but the firm said it would persevere, relying on capacity already reserved by prospective customers. Construction could begin late this year or next spring.

City economic development officials want both power projects to go forward. That will probably require new transmission lines, also needed to transport power from several wind farms being developed in the area.

Phil Davies