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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Montana Transmission Siting Process (8-MT-a)

This flowchart illustrates the procedure to obtain a Certificate of Compliance in the state of Montana. A certificate of compliance is generally obtained through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under the Montana Code Annotated Title 75, Chapter 20 for regulated transmission facilities. A developer may not begin construction on a ‘facility’ within the state without first obtaining a Certificate of Compliance. A ‘facility’ includes each electric transmission line and associated facilities of a design capacity of more than 69 kV, with a few exceptions. MCA 75-20-104(8).

There are additional requirements for facilities regulated by FERC. See MCA 75-20-204.

Consideration of this application will likely trigger an extensive review under Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).


Transmission Siting Process Process

8-MT-a.1 - Is the Transmission Facility of a Design Capacity of More Than 69 KV and Not Exempt

Generally, electrical transmission lines greater than 69kV may be covered under the Major Facility Siting Act. There are several categories of transmission lines which are excluded from the definition of ‘facility,’ and thus not subject to transmission siting requirements included in MCA 75-20-104(8).

The definition of ‘facility’ does not include the following:

  • Transmission lines with a design capacity of 230 kV or less and 10 miles or less in length;
  • Transmission lines with a design capacity of more than 69 kV but less than 230 kV for which the developer has obtained right-of-way agreements or options for a right-of-way from more than 75% of the owners who collectively own more than 75% of the property along the centerline;
  • Transmission lines that are less than 150 miles in length and extends from an electrical generation facility or a wind generation facility or a biomass generation facility, to the point at which the transmission line connects to a regional transmission grid at an existing transmission sub-station or other facility for which the developer has obtained right-of-way agreements or options for a right-of-way from more than 75% of the owners who collectively own more than 75% of the property along the centerline;
  • An upgrade to an existing transmission line to increase that line’s capacity to less than or equal to 230 kV, including construction outside the existing easement or right-of-way; or
  • A transmission substation, switchyard, voltage support, or other control equipment. MCA 75-20-104(8)(a).

8-MT-a.2 to 8-MT-a.5 - Do Private Parties Own More than 75% of the Property Along the Centerline of the Transmission Path?

Even if the transmission facility is excluded under MCA 75-20-104(8), if more than 75 percent of the property along the centerline of the transmission path is owned by private parties, the developer must obtain right-of-way agreements or options from the landowners and submit proof of the agreements or options to the DEQ within 36 months of the date of preliminary notice to the public and the DEQ. The agreements or options must contain sufficient information to establish landowner consent to construct the transmission line and sufficient information for the DEQ to verify that private landowners own more than 75 percent of the land along the centerline of the transmission path. If private parties do not own more than 75 percent of the property along the centerline of the transmission path, the developer may continue with the project. MCA 75-20-208.

8-MT-a.6 - Publish Notice to Public and DEQ

The developer is required to provide notice to the public and the DEQ when they plan on constructing a transmission line. Notice must be made no less than 60 days prior to the commencement of acquisition of right-of-way by publication of a summary describing the transmission facility and the proposed location of the facility in newspapers that will substantially inform of the construction and by mailing a summary to the DEQ. MCA 75-20-207.

8-MT-a.7 - Application for Transmission Facility and Associated Documents

Applications must contain information on the regional reliability criteria, explanation of need and transient stability, reliability of service and economy. MCA 75-20-211.

Regional Reliability Criteria

  • A description of the existing and desired levels of transmission system reliability and how the proposed facility affects the level of reliability;
  • An explanation of the rationale for the selection of the developer's desired level of reliability;
  • The planning assumptions and rules used to maintain the desired level of transmission reliability;
  • The expected frequency of interruption of service to customers on the applicant's transmission system under current reliability criteria, and the extent to which that frequency of interruption is associated with outages of generation, transmission, and distribution facilities; and
  • An economic evaluation of alternate levels of reliability.

See ARM 17.20.907.

Explanation of Need

  • Transient stability considerations under normal or contingent operating conditions;
  • Power transfer capacity under normal or contingent operating conditions;
  • Voltage drop in the transmission or sub-transmission network under normal or contingent operating conditions;
  • Reliability of service considerations; and
  • Economy considerations.

See ARM 17.20.920.

Transient Stability Considerations

  • An explanation of the normal or contingent operating conditions, under which a transient stability problem exists, identification of the criteria used to determine these conditions, and an explanation of the rationale for their use; and
  • At least two stability studies, one to demonstrate the problem situation and one to demonstrate the solution.

See ARM 17.20.921.

Reliability of Service

  • The information required by ARM 17.20.922(5) and (6);
  • A description of the planning assumptions and rules by which the applicant attempts to maintain its desired level of generation and transmission reliability, and an explanation of the rationale for the selection of the desired level of reliability. To the extent this information has been provided in ARM 17.20.907, it need not be duplicated here.
  • To the extent available 10 years historical line outage data in the area to be served by the proposed facility including the duration, location, and cause of the outage, the load lost, and the number and type of customers affected, if known.

See ARM 17.20.923.

Economy Considerations

  • A system cost study for the 10 years following the date the proposed line is to be placed in service, showing system costs with and without the proposed line;
  • An analysis of markets and prices for surplus energy or of the need for and alternative sources of firm energy to be transmitted over the proposed line;
  • An analysis of sources and prices for purchased energy to be received over the proposed line;
  • An analysis of the demand for and price of wheeling services to be provided by the proposed line;
  • Other economic analysis relevant to demonstrating the need, economic feasibility or financial viability of the proposed line;
  • A discussion of the relationship of the capacity of the proposed facility to the size of projected flows over the facility; and
  • If transmission capacity exists that could carry the desired energy or power flows without violating voltage drop, transfer capacity or other transmission planning criteria, a discussion of efforts by the developer to reach an acceptable agreement with the owners of this transmission capacity to make it available to the developer at reasonable cost and an explanation of why the proposed facility is preferable to use of the existing facility.
  • If the transmission grid is managed by a regional transmission organization (RTO) formed under FERC order 2000, the application must report:
  1. The extent of congestion and the costs of congestion throughout the year, with and without the proposed facility, for each affected flow path on the regional grid;
  2. A projection of the transmission rights that would be created by the proposed facility; and
  3. Planning evaluations of the proposed facility written either by the RTO or another regional planning organization.

See ARM 17.20.924.

8-MT-a.8 to 8-MT-a.9 - Review application materials for completeness

DEQ will review the application to ensure it is filed with the appropriate office personnel and consult with the developer to ensure the application is complete before review commences. The application must be complete in order to facilitate proper processing and environmental review.

If the application is not complete, it is returned to the developer for completion.

8-MT-a.10 - Review application

DEQ will review the application materials to ensure that the proposed transmission line meets the requirements outlined in ARM 17.20.1606.

In order to find that there is a need for an electric transmission facility as required by MCA 75-20-301 the DEQ must find that the services of the facility are needed. The DEQ will consider various factors in determining need based on the stated basis of need provided by the developer in their application. For example, if the stated basis of need in the application is economic considerations, then the DEQ will consider whether the benefits of the transmission line warrant the resource commitment associated with it given the degree of uncertainty surrounding the benefits, likely markets, and economy purchases. For additional need-based considerations see ARM 17.20.1606.

DEQ must also perform a cost-benefit analysis under ARM 17.20.1604. DEQ must find that the discounted net present value of benefits (less costs) is greater for the facility than for any other reasonable alternative. In conducting the analysis, DEQ may consider cumulative environmental impacts, benefits to the parties (developer, Montana, developer's customers), effects of the additional economic activity, costs of the facility and any other relevant factors. The determination is intended to maximize the consideration of the transmission line's effect on the public's health, welfare and safety. ARM 17.20.1604.

8-MT-a.11 – Provide Public Notice of the Application

The DEQ is responsible for posting notice of the application. MCA 75-20-207. Oftentimes the public notice portion is accomplished during the Montana Environmental Policy Act (Montana) (MEPA) process.

8-MT-a.12 – Comment on Application

The DEQ may allow up to 30 days for the public to comment on the application.

8-MT-a.13 - Forward Application to Interested Agencies

The DEQ acts as the main point of contact for the application and forwards the application to any agencies that may have an interest in the new facility. MCA 75-20-207.

8-MT-a.14 - Initiate Montana Environmental Policy Act Process

The Montana Environmental Policy Act (Montana) (MEPA) requires the state government to consider the environmental impacts of their decisions. MEPA review of projects can be conducted jointly with the federal National Environmental Policy Act review if required.

Montana Environmental Policy Act:
9-MT-a

8-MT-a.15 - Does the DEQ Approve the Application?

In order to approve the application for a Certificate of Compliance, the DEQ must determine that there is a need for the transmission facilities. The DEQ must approve the certificate within 30 days following review if the following findings and/or determinations are made:

  • The basis of the need for the facility;
  • The nature of the probable environmental impact;
  • That the facility minimizes adverse environmental impact, considering the state of available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives;
  • The location of the facility is consistent with the law;
  • That the facility will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity;
  • Water and air quality decisions have already been issued; and
  • Public lands and federal corridors were considered. 75-20-301(3).

The DEQ must approve a facility as proposed or modified if they determine:

  • That the facility incorporates all reasonable, cost-effective mitigation of significant environmental impacts; and
  • That the unmitigated impacts, including those that cannot be reasonably qualified or valued in monetary terms, will not result in violated of a law or standard that protects the public health and safety or the environment. 75-20-301(3).

8-MT-a.16 - Certificate of Compliance

The DEQ will issue a Certificate of Compliance to the developer following review of the proposed project. The certificate must include the requirement that construction of a transmission facility be completed within 10 years following certification (five years for transmission lines 30 miles or less in length).

The Certificate of Compliance will likely contain monitoring requirements under ARM 17.20.1902. Typically the DEQ will monitor compliance with environmental specifications and any other conditions contained in the certificate. Most of the monitoring issues should be settled during the pre-construction conference (must happen 15 days before construction commences).

Within 15 days of approving the certificate, the developer must identify a representative for monitoring purposes. The developer is also required to inform the DEQ before construction operations. MCA 75-20-216. The information required in the notice includes maps with the following points identified:

  • The centerline;
  • All construction and maintenance access roads;
  • Structures;
  • Clearing backlines, clearing limits or disturbance limits, staging sites, and pulling sites;
  • Borrow pits;
  • Campsites; and
  • Storage or other buildings.

The developer must also submit a list of contractors, number of workers, types of heavy equipment, and the proposed construction schedule.

A bond may be required as well.

8-MT-a.17 – Monitor Facility for Compliance

The DEQ conducts all facility inspections and reviews reports to determine compliance with permit conditions, laws, and regulations. If violations are discovered, the DEQ provides the technical assistance needed to bring the facility back into compliance or prepares an enforcement request for further action by the Enforcement Division within the DEQ. MCA 75-20-402.

8-MT-a.18 - Is the Decision Contested?

Any person aggrieved by the final decision of the DEQ on an application for a certificate may appeal the decision or request a public hearing on the decision within 30 days to the Board of Environmental Review within the DEQ. 75-20-223(1)(a).

If a public hearing is requested and the DEQ provided a public comment period, then the request must be limited to the issues which that party raised in comments during the public comment period unless the issues are related to the following:

  • A material change in law made during the comment period;
  • A judicial decision issued after the comment period; or
  • To a material change to the draft permit. 75-20-223(1)(b).

8-MT-a.19 – Hold Hearing (optional)

The Board of Environmental Review may hold a public hearing to consider issues in the final decision which have been contested. Decisions of the Board of Environmental Review may be appealed to a state district court. 75-20-223.

8-MT-a.20 to 8-MT-a.21 – Does DEQ Approve the Application?

The DEQ may approve or reject the application following the public hearing. The Board of Environmental Review must issue a final decision within 4 months from the close of the hearing on the merits or, if no hearing is held, within 3 months from the date that briefing by the parties is complete. If the decision is contested by a third party, then the developer and the third party may agree to an extension of time for the final decision. 75-20-223(c)(4).

8-MT-a.22 – Monitor Facility for Compliance

The DEQ conducts all facility inspections and reviews reports to determine compliance with permit conditions, laws, and regulations. If violations are discovered, the DEQ provides the technical assistance needed to bring the facility back into compliance or prepares an enforcement request for further action by the Enforcement Division within the DEQ. MCA 75-20-402.




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Edit Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Environmental Management Bureau Chief
406.444.6791
wmccullough@mtabbazabbagov
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