Thursday, August 15, 2013
The three members of the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) are appointed by the governor of Arkansas. Opponents of the proposed Shipe Road to Kings River 345 kiloVolt transmission line have been calling and e-mailing the current governor, and also taking a look at who might replace him.
Gov. Mike Beebe has told opponents that while he appointed the members of the APSC, it wouldn’t be proper for him to try to influence their decisions, taking a “hands off” position.
The utility industry, including American Electric Power (AEP) and its subsidiary with the power line application, Southwestern Electric Energy Co. (SWEPCO), gives large campaign contributions to political candidates. But in researching campaign contributions of the current candidate running to replace Beebe, former Congressman Mike Ross, you don’t have to get into page after page of small print campaign contributions to find a pro-industry bias.
After leaving Congress, Ross was hired as a government affairs specialist for Southern Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission organization. AEP/SWEPCO says it is being required to build the new transmission line by SPP. Ross, who had $2 million in campaign contributions (a record amount for the governor’s race at this point before the election) by the end of June, only recently resigned from SPP to run for governor.
“Want to guess what kind of pro industry people would be appointed by Ross to the APSC if he is elected?” asks Faith Pettit-Shah, who with her husband, Michael, recently retired to rural Carroll County near route 108 proposed by SWEPCO. “SPP is the regional transmission group that has plans for multiple high-voltage transmission lines through Carroll County and other areas of Northwest Arkansas. These power lines are to make an energy superhighway through Arkansas, not to serve Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas would get its property values and tourism economy decimated so Entergy and SWEPCO could make greater profits transporting wind and coal energy out of state.”
When contacted for comment on how his previous employment might impact his position on the AEP/SWEPCO and other major transmission projects planned for Arkansas, Brad Howard, spokesman for Mike Ross for Governor, said the decision on where to place these transmission lines is the sole responsibility of the independent APSC, which is required to hold public hearings before making a decision.
“This process is independent and nonpartisan so that the best possible solution can be made that balances energy needs and environmental impacts, and, as governor, Mike Ross will respect the independence of the process and the APSC,” Howard said. “He does, however, encourage all concerned members of the affected communities to attend the public hearings and contact the APSC to make their views and concerns known.”
The leading Republican candidate for governor, Asa Hutchinson, had raised about $726,000 by the end of June. Contacted for comment on the Shipe Road to Kings River project, Hutchinson was noncommittal.
“I have not yet examined the proposed location personally, and hope to do so,” Hutchinson said. “Having grown up in the Ozark Hills, I am not a fan of anything that destroys the natural beauty of the Ozarks. I understand we must have power, but I do hope to learn if there are any possible alternatives."
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