Thursday, April 11, 2013
Property owners concerned about visual and environmental blight and a potential steep decline in property values from a proposed 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line, that would cut a 150-ft. wide path through some of the most scenic natural areas of Carroll County, are scrambling to organize and hire attorneys to oppose the lines in proceedings before the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC).
Property owners have until May 2 to intervene in PSC proceedings on the preferred route that would run 48 miles from Centerton through Carroll County near Beaver and on to a new $20-million Kings River Station to be located north of Berryville. Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) said it has been asked to build the line to ensure reliability within the area governed by the Southwest Power Pool, particularly northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri.
Opponents have said no one wants to live near a high voltage power line, nor view it. Issues also include concerns that a high transmission line through private property would make it hard to sell their homes and could pollute their watersheds with herbicides.
The line would cost an estimated $116.7 million, according to SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main.
Notice for a meeting to be held Thursday night in Eureka Springs said a primary topic would be how to have a voice in the decision making process of the PSC. “The commission will evaluate SWEPCO’s contention that the station and line are necessary,” the notice said. “If the commission finds in favor of SWEPCO on the issue of necessity, the commission will then decide on the line corridor’s route. The latter decision determines who will be forced to concede right-of-way across their property to SWEPCO, either through negotiation or by condemnation via eminent domain.”
Landowners weigh in
Dr. Jim Helwig, whose property on Wolf Ridge is in the path of the route 62-86 (listed as the second alternative), said one critical issue is whether current electricity consumption really dictates a huge new transmission line.
The Southern Power Pool needs study was originally done in 2007, the same year an economic downturn known as the Great Recession started reducing growth – particularly residential growth in the Bentonville-Fayetteville-Springdale areas. In recent years more businesses and homeowners have started using CFL and LED light bulbs that use less energy, and there have been government rebates for purchasing energy efficient appliances. Cost of solar panels has declined considerably in recent years.
Eureka Springs signed onto the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, and unanimously adopted a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The city received a grant last year and installed energy measures including LED lighting, energy conservation and renewable energy.
Helwig said in addition to researching whether electricity consumption has grown at the rate predicted earlier, it is important to make sure alternatives are considered such as distributed power generation which generates energy from smaller, localized energy plants, and smart grids. A smart grid uses information and communications technology to make electric generation more efficient, reliable and economical.
Studies forecast growth
SWEPCO spokesman Main said studies have predicted overloads on the transmission system in 2016 and beyond. “And so this is putting facilities in place to strengthen the system so that it is able to handle the load that is anticipated in 2016, in particular the Carroll County portion,” he said.
Main said energy conservation wouldn’t eliminate the need for the new line. He said the Southwest Power Pool study process looks annually at needs across the system, and “they have not changed their instructions or their assessment that this line is needed. That is not a one-time snapshot from 2007. Their responsibility is for the broad region and it is also long term. Their planning process is ongoing. The need for this line remains in their planning.”
However, Southern Power Pool spokesman Tom Kleckner, when asked the same question about whether energy demand had grown as fast as anticipated in 2007, said, “This question is probably better suited for SWEPCO or Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), as they are the providers meeting much of the load in that area. I do understand Northwest Arkansas continues to see growth.”
Kleckner was also asked if the Southwest Power Pool ever considers investing in energy conservation or distributed power systems instead of spending large sums to build high voltage transmission lines.
“We work closely with our members to balance the economic, reliability and public policy aspects of the region’s transmission needs,” Kleckner said. “That said, we do incorporate some of our members’ demand-response solutions – which modifies electricity usage – in our load-forecast process. It is the utility’s role to identify how much generation is needed to serve customers.”
Alternatives to pastoral disruption
Jerry Landrum, a retired Navy scientist, said he would encourage the PSC to give SWEPCO’s existing rebate programs a chance to work or, better still, expand them.
“Right now SWEPCO offers incentives for energy efficiency to all customers, but only offers incentives for renewable energy production to industrial and commercial customers with 50 kilowatt or larger service,” Landrum said. “If these renewable incentives were offered to small business and residential customers, as well, I think the gains from efficiency and renewables would more than offset any future growth in population or the economy.”
Landrum said the alternatives could be far less expensive and negate the need for the new power line altogether. That would be especially true if the PSC extended the rebate program to Carroll Electric Cooperative. He said large utilities like SWEPCO have a moral responsibility for addressing critical problems with climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the opponents of the proposed route 33 is Pat Costner, a retired senior scientist with Greenpeace. Costner’s 135 acres contains features such as caves, springs and creeks, and she has gone to considerable effort to make sure the property is preserved. Costner has had her own power generation with solar panels for eight years, and has upgraded her system to accommodate a new air source heat pump that heats and cools her house.
“I am by no means the only one using alternative power sources,” Costner said. “There are a number of other homeowners who have similar systems. Industries including chicken farms are being encouraged to use LED lighting that will reduce their power demand considerably, and are taking other steps to reduce their power usage.”
SWEPCO said the new line is needed to serve growth in Carroll County, but also the entire grid. Kleckner agreed stating, “We take a broad, regional outlook in working with our members to help keep the lights on. This line is seen as important to the greater northwest Arkansas area, and southern Missouri as well.”
Some people opposed to the new line have questioned if this isn’t a duplication of services between SWEPCO and Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp., which serves rural areas of the region.
“It is not a duplication because we are talking about different levels of voltage,” Main said. “This is a higher voltage. Compared to a highway system, it is going to be higher traffic and higher carrying capacity for the higher voltage lines. SWEPCO is the company with the responsibility for construction of the lines at that voltage level for this area. I do hope people understand the purpose of building and maintaining is reliability of electricity.”
At press time it wasn’t known if one citizen group would form to hire an attorney or if multiple groups would form to oppose the six different routes under consideration.
“Meetings are ongoing,” Helwig said. “Everything is on the table. Circumstances dictate any effective group needs a leader, and a budget for a lawyer. Strategies of opposition are not yet clear, and difficult to come by. Lawyers are needed, and time is short.”
For more information about citizen action opposing the new power line, contact Tony Freeman, (479) 409-8461, Logistics.firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the SWEPCO application is available at the website www.swepco.com/shipekings, which has links to the PSC website that include identification of different routes, the application, and supporting testimony.
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