Federal report clears route of wind power electric lines

Source: By Paul Monies, The Oklahoman • Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015

The federal Energy Department released its final environmental report Wednesday on a proposed high-voltage, direct-current transmission line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tennessee.

The 720-mile Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would take 4,000 megawatts of electricity from planned wind farms in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and ship it directly to utilities in the southeastern United States. A converter station in Arkansas would take 500 megawatts of renewable energy for utilities in that state.

The environmental impact statement included a preferred route for the transmission line and preferred locations for the converter stations in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Energy Department listed several areas of environmental impact, but none were widespread and could be managed during the project’s construction and operations.

“While the relative importance of specific environmental resource areas varies by individual (some members of the public or agencies value certain resources over others), the Plains and Eastern EIS did not identify widespread significant impacts as a result of construction or operations and maintenance of the project,” the department said in an executive summary.

The transmission line would cross 14 Oklahoma counties, encompassing more than 420 miles of the 720-mile route. Construction could start by 2017, with completion in 2019 or 2020. The company estimates it will pay $35 million to Oklahoma landowners in easement and structure payments.

Clean Line Energy Partners said it appreciated the department’s review and was pleased the project had reached an important milestone.

“The release of the final EIS marks the culmination of more than five years of work and the consideration of thousands of stakeholder comments,” Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said in a statement.

The report includes thousands of pages of public comments, including concerns about easement acquisition and property rights, routing issues and potential health effects associated with electromagnetic fields. The Energy Department acknowledged the comments and said it was impossible to build large infrastructure projects without some impacts.

“There is no ‘impact-free’ routing choice for a large transmission line,” the department said in the executive summary.

Federal participation considered

Separately from the environmental study, the Energy Department is studying whether to participate in the Clean Line project under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The department is expected to release that decision later this year.

The 2005 law allows the federal government to be involved in some way with transmission projects to relieve grid congestion or increase transmission capacity. Any participation in the project would be through the Southwestern Power Administration, a federal agency that markets and transmits electricity from hydroelectric dams.

The Southwestern Power Resources Association, which includes some customers of the Southwestern Power Administration, said it has serious concerns over involvement by the federal agency in the Clean Line project. They are worried Southwestern customers could be on the hook for development costs or liabilities if the project fails.