Thursday, May 02, 2013
Save The Ozarks is opposed to what group members call an “energy superhighway,” a new 48-mile-long 345 kiloVolt (kV) transmission line STO alleges has little to do with the energy needs of Northwest Arkansas, and instead would facilitate the Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) selling power from its new $1.8 billion Turk coal-fired power plant in south Arkansas. Documents filed with the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) indicate the transmission line is being designed to hold two 345-kilovolt (kV) lines.
SWEPCO spokesman Peter H. Main confirmed that the single steel poles proposed to be used are designed with the capability to carry two 345-kV circuits, one on each side of the pole.
“This is called double-circuit capable,” Main said. “The proposed single-pole structure configuration was selected to minimize the physical and visual impact of the facilities. No additional right of way would be required for a second circuit. Our application at the APSC is for a single 345-kV circuit to be in service by 2016. There are no plans for a second 345-kV circuit.”
However, testimony by SWEPCO expert Brian A. Johnson in the case for an application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need from the APSC for the transmission line states: “The tangent structures will be capable of supporting two 345 kV circuits, however the line will be initially constructed and operated as a single circuit line. Larger angles and dead-end structures will support one circuit, so a second structure will be required for future double-circuit operation.”
Doug Stowe of Eureka Springs, whose property adjoining the city is within 75 feet of one proposed route, points out that Johnson said in his testimony “will be required.”
‘“Will’ is a word for an intended future,” Stowe said. ‘“Would’ is a word for a possible future. He says ‘will.’ How can anyone misinterpret their intentions? Would APSC approval be required for the second circuit, and would we have any chance of preventing it once the value of our properties had already been destroyed? Once APSC permission is granted for the right-of-way, they can add the second circuit whenever they want, and I doubt even the APSC could stop them.”
“This is an energy superhighway for SWEPCO, but it is not going to benefit us,” Dr. Luis Contreras said. “They are going to make us pay for it, but we don’t need the energy. The power is going to go to Missouri and other states. It is not for our needs.”
Main said the proposed transmission facilities are needed to provide increased reliability and overload relief in eastern Benton and Carroll Counties beginning in 2016. The facilities are part of the long-range transmission expansion plans recommended by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).
Retired Greenpeace senior scientist Pat Costner said the application by SWEPCO doesn’t present current evidence of the need for increased power. She said SWEPCO said that SPP told them the line is needed, but since SWEPCO is a member of the SPP, it is in essence SWEPCO telling itself the new power line is needed.
Justification for the new power line came from studies done in 2007. Carroll County’s population increased about nine percent between 2000 and 2010, from 25,357 in 2000 to 27,446 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. Since then, population growth has leveled off with a gain of only 164 residents between 2010 and 2012, representing an increase of .6 percent.
SWEPCO’s new Turk coal plant opened in December 2012 after years of controversy and lawsuits. SWEPCO received a permit to build the Turk plant near Hope claiming it was needed to provide power to Arkansas. But in 2010, a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for the Turk Plant was revoked by the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
SWEPCO then applied for a permit as a merchant power plant, giving it permission to operate the portion of the plant owned by SWEPCO provided the power is not sold in Arkansas. Main said the Turk Plant is interconnected to the SWEPCO system through three high-voltage lines – one 345-kV line and two 138-kV lines – in the Texarkana area.
There are two electric providers in Carroll County: SWEPCO and Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. (CECC). Contreras said when he spoke with CECC about need for the new power line he was told it was about trying to improve reliability.
“They have done that already, but have made the countryside look horrible from spraying herbicides,” Contreras said. “In the past couple of years when power has been down because of storms, typically it is fixed within a few hours. There is no one asking for additional demand. There are no businesses stopped from coming into the area because of insufficient power.”
Monopoly electric power companies are different from other businesses in that the more money they spend, the more they make. Power companies get paid a certain percent return, set by public service commissions, on every dollar spent. Contreras speculates that SWEPCO’s proposed new power line is more motivated by making profits than with improving electrical service.
Another issue is that property owners won’t get a lump sum for the land taken for the power line right-of-way.
“Property owners would get a check each month for leasing in a perpetual mode,” Contreras said. “That land belongs to the power company, but they don’t buy it. They just lease it.”
More than just people directly in the path of the line are potentially impacted because even being adjacent to a large power transmission line can lower property values by 25 percent or more, said representatives from Save the Ozarks, a citizen group opposing the new power line as unnecessary. Even people nowhere near the line might end up with higher property taxes, as land taken for utility right-of-way isn’t subject to paying county property taxes. With property along the route devalued, tax money has to be made up by increasing taxes in the rest of the county.
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