Thursday, June 13, 2013
The proposal by SWEPCO to build a 48-mile-long high voltage power transmission line from near Centerton to the Kings River near Berryville has now generated nearly 5,000 public comments to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC). Comments have been overwhelmingly in opposition according to their website. But if SWEPCO and the Southern Power Pool can prove to the APSC that the line is needed, the debate will probably shift not to whether or not the line is built, but which of six proposed routes it will take.
The linchpin that will determine whether or not the Ozarks get traversed by a power line that would tower high above the tree line along some of the state’s most scenic areas, relates to need for the project. Opponents have been frustrated by SWEPCO’s response when questioned about need for the project primarily stating that the Southern Power Pool (SPP) – a regional electric transmission organization – has ordered SWEPCO to build the new line.
On June 6, SPP filed a request for confidentiality with the APSC. SWEPCO filed a similar request, a motion for protective order of non-disclosure, on June 10.
“As a member of SPP a Regional Transmission Organization, SWEPCO has participated in SPP planning studies that have result in recommendations for various transmission facilities which include the transmission facilities that are the subject of this docket,” the SPP filing states. “Such studies and supporting documents, as well as SPP and SWEPCO operation data contains information that is confidential and highly sensitive, which SWEPCO and SPP believe if publicly disclosed would cause the Company and SPP and its members competitive injury.”
SPP spokesman Pete Hoelscher said another factor is the documents include information designated as Critical Energy Infrastructure Information by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, meaning it cannot be publicly disclosed for security purposes. “This type of information may only be released under appropriate terms of confidentiality, including a protective order,” he said.
Asked about the need for the project, SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said SPP directed SWEPCO to construct the proposed facilities to relieve future overloading of the 161-kV system serving eastern Benton County and Carroll County. Opponents of the transmission line have pointed out that SWEPCO is a member of the SPP, so in essence SWEPCO is telling itself that the new power line is needed.
Doug Stowe, a member of Save The Ozarks (STO) whose property near the northern boundary of Eureka Springs would be traversed by one of the proposed routes, said he believes SPP’s own documents support that the “need” for the project isn’t to prevent power outages in the service area, but about increasing SWEPCO’s profits and competitiveness.
“They’ve already stated their case publicly in the 2012 SPP report in which they state clearly that the purpose of the proposed Shipe to Kings River 345 kV project is to alleviate problems having to do with ‘shadow price’ at the Springfield ‘flow gate’,” Stowe said. “The line is not to alleviate problems in power supply and reliability as claimed, but rather to alleviate problems concerned with price and that point is clearly made in readily available documents which readers can find on the Save The Ozarks website (www.savetheozarks.org).”
Stowe said shadow price is the difference in price of power from one side of the flowgate or the other.
“They make more money when they have access to cheaper power,” he said. “The rates are set by public service commissions, and so when they can shave off a few extra pennies per kilowatt, they make out big time. This is, of course, not considering what they are doing to the environment, or what they are threatening to do to the economy, culture, scenic beauty and quality of life here in Northwest Arkansas.”
Stowe and STO suspect SPP having to make this petition to the APSC to hide documents is directly related to STO’s petition to intervene. “They now know that every dark corner of their business model may be brought under scrutiny by this proceeding,” Stowe said. “Instead of simply choosing a route and destroying the property of a lot of folks along the way, they have to prove the necessity of their proposed line expansion. This project was poorly conceived and is overly destructive.”
Information from a 2012 SPP document identifies a transmission flowgate. Stowe said the problem identified at the Brookline transformer in Springfield supports STO’s belief that these lines are for Missouri, not Northwest Arkansas.
The document states, “The Flint Creek to Centerton to Osage Creek 345 kV lines, regional reliability upgrades in Northwestern Arkansas, are expected to provide some positive mitigation for this congestion when they go into service in 2016.”
“So what do they mean by congestion?” Stowe asks. “It is not a lack of power or a reliability issue.”
“SPP monitors more than 260 flowgates,” the SPP document states. “From these, the 10 SPP flowgates with the highest ‘shadow price’ over the previous twelve months are shown in SPP’s Monthly State of the Market Reports. …a shadow price is the amount of value, measured in dollars, of relieving a constraint by a small amount. The value of relieving a constraint is generally that lower-priced power can be used, so the value is reflected in the difference in Locational Imbalance Prices on either side of the constraint.
Stowe also questions how this line alleviates future overloading in Eastern Benton County when there are no substations related to this project between Shipe Road and Kings River. “In order for anyone to draw power from a 345 kV line without being fried would require a substation like they are planning to construct at the Kings,” Stowe said. “There are no step down transformers anyplace along the line. And those kinds of substations are years in the planning.”
Some opponents have questioned if the line would be used to sell power out of state from SWEPCO’s Flint Creek Power Plant in Gentry, a coal-fired power plant. SWEPCO’s Main said that plant is co-owned 50 percent by SWEPCO and 50 percent by Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC).
“It serves SWEPCO’s retail and wholesale customers,” Main said. “SWEPCO’s wholesale customers in Arkansas include the cities of Bentonville, Hope and Prescott. AECC supplies Arkansas’ electric distribution cooperatives.”
Opponents of the project have also objected that documents related to the need for the project were developed in 2007 before the housing market bust.
“A lot of things have changed since 2007 when the studies used to justify the need for the project were finalized,” said Pat Costner, one of the organizers of STO. “Among the many factors contributing to reduced power demand are the housing market bust, the Great Recession, decreasing population growth, increasing adoption of energy saving measures including improved building construction and remodeling, greater availability and use of energy efficiency programs and energy-saving technologies and devices (LED lights, etc.), and lower cost and resulting increased purchase and rental of on-site power generating systems such as photovoltaic systems.”
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