Thursday, September 05, 2013
The Arkansas Public Service Commission hearing on the proposed Shipe Road to King River 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line lasted the entire week of Aug. 26-30 at the APSC building in Little Rock. A loyal crowd from Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri sat in the hearing room as attorneys for Save the Ozarks (STO), Mick Harrison and Gregory Ferguson, and other opposing intervenors including Jeff Danos, presented case against the transmission line that opponents say does not meet a public need and would blight the environment and economy of the Ozarks.
Harrison spent hours in intense cross-examination of expert witnesses for American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) and its allies. Harrison elicited many admissions from these witnesses that contradict or undermine assertions made in SWEPCO’s application and Environmental Impact Statement. Jeff Danos of Eureka Springs, a pro se [in one’s own behalf] intervenor, further drew out important information during his questioning of these same witnesses.
Expert witnesses for both sides submitted written testimonies – direct, rebuttal and subrebuttal – prior to the hearing. However, the hearing itself was the only opportunity for APSC’s Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin to hear witnesses defend their written testimonies. Attorneys for SWEPCO and its allies chose not to question STO’s witnesses. Under APSC's rules, this manuever had the effect of silencing STO’s witnesses in the hearing.
STO Director Pat Costner said the decision not to cross-examine STO’s expert witnesses was disconcerting.
“It was a very smart, but not entirely unexpected tactic on their part,” Costner said. “I suspect they were planning this from the beginning. It was disappointing. Did it weaken our case? Not appreciably. It would have been preferable for the judge to have heard our witnesses speak and for our attorney to have elicited and clarified more issues with the experts. But we still have the written testimony of our expert witnesses, who were very effective, especially our needs expert, Dr.
Costner said the evidence AEP/SWEPCO submitted for the hearing and the responses of their expert witnesses during cross-examination has further strengthened STO’s confidence that APSC will not approve this proposal.
While disappointed that the mountains of testimony by STO experts was not aired in open court, STO believes written testimonies of its witnesses provide convincing evidence that the AEP/SWEPCO application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) should be denied.
“The hearing in Little Rock before the commission went very well from STO’s perspective,” Harrison said. “Persuasive evidence was presented demonstrating that the proposed extra high voltage 345 kV line is not needed to solve any real reliability problem or need for more electric power.” Harrison said the information gleaned from the hearing showed that AEP/SWEPCO first decided to do the project, and then worked on coming up with a rationalization for the project that would cost in the range of $117 million – generating millions in profit for the company from construction of the line and potentially more millions from being able to sell power out of state. Many opponents of the project contend the 12 percent guaranteed return on investment for the transmission line is the real reason AEP/SWEPCO wants the line.
Harrison said AEP/SWEPCO and SPP witnesses admitted that a number of key factors have not been studied including the nature and extent of impacts on sensitive karst ecosystems, the increased cost of construction in karst terrain, and adverse economic impacts on local communities such as Eureka Springs, including negative impacts on tourism.
“All these factors are required by Arkansas law to be evaluated in the environmental impact statement and the application submitted to the APSC for the CECPN,” Harrison said.
Another important factor demonstrated at the hearing is that a number of environmental permits have not yet been obtained by AEP/SWEPCO that Arkansas law requires in order for the commission to consider whether the adverse environmental impacts from the proposed power line would be acceptable.
“It should also be noted that three of the six proposed routes were withdrawn by AEP/SWEPCO before the hearing in the face of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to grant permission for the line to cross its properties on those routes,” Harrison said. “Of the remaining three routes (33, 108 and 109), the commission’s staff electrical engineer testified that he was not willing to conclude that either Route 108 or Route 109 was reasonable. That leaves Route 33, which suffers from all legal defects just noted. Also, the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Commission submitted a letter to the commission stating its strong objection to that route, as did the federal Department of Interior National Park Service because of impact to the Pea Ridge National Military Park.”
Harrison said for all of these reasons and more, STO believes the commission should reject the extra high voltage power line on the grounds that it is both unneeded and unacceptably harmful to the environment and the local economy.
Alderman James DeVito, an STO witness who attended the hearing, said overall he came away with the impression AEP/SWEPCO was unprepared and negligent in their preparation.
“It became obvious as Mick, the STO attorney, grilled SWEPCO officers and their expert witnesses that they were deficient in their application,” DeVito said. “Some items like the EIS were lifted from other projects. For a subsidiary of the largest power company in America, AEP, SWEPCO came across as amateurs.”
One significant concern of opponents of the power line is the intention of AEP/SWEPCO to spray herbicides to kill vegetation in the right-of-way. Doug Stowe, a witness for STO who attended the hearing in Little Rock, said testimony by AEP Project Manager Brian Johnson indicated that landowners would be allowed to maintain the right-of-way at their own expense if they did not want AEP/SWEPCO to do it. However, AEP’s vegetation management plan includes the use of herbicides.
Stowe said not only did AEP/SWEPCO fail to address the overall adverse economic impacts required by law, they neglected to include analysis of the economic impact on local communities. He also said there was little original analysis of areas under consideration.
“If you read the application for the Flint Creek to Shipes Road project and compare it to the application for the Shipes Road to Kings River power line project, you will find the exact same text simply copied from one application to the other,” Stowe said. “Cut and paste are not the same thing as analysis, and so SWEPCO did not meet the statutory requirement of the application process. Will the APSC allow a proposal to go forward that has not met the statutory requirements of the Arkansas State law? We hope not.”
Clark Cotten, a senior electrical engineer for APSC, testified he had done nothing to double check the work done by Burns McDonald in preparation of the EIS. Stowe said it became clear in questioning that Cotten was way out of his depth in providing recommendations to the APSC on the project.
“Cotten did not asked others on staff to help him with the review,” Stowe said. “State law allows the APSC to hire outside consultants when necessary to evaluate concerns beyond the capability or expertise of staff. This is a case in which they should have hired outside expertise to evaluate a variety of concerns, including the environment, a matter in which Cotten is not qualified, and economic impact, a matter in which Cotten is not qualified.”
Michael Shah, another Eurekan who attended the hearing, said the testimony was clear that there is no power need for this voltage in Carroll or Madison counties. “All parties on the utility side have agreed that a suitable back-up of the current system would be to add another 161kv line if it were ever needed,” Shah said. “Everyone also acknowledged that population growth and new household utility customer numbers are down slightly in the last year and last five years.”
Shah said the purposes of these proposed lines are to bolster the present energy portfolios of the AEP/SWEPCO, Southern Power Pool, SWEPCO, the Arkansas Association of Electric Cooperatives and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).
“The members of these organizations have all their costs paid for by their customers and they have all been allowed profits after all these expenses of 10 to 12.4 percent,” Shah said. “The more power transmission lines and substations they construct, the more money they make.”
On the first day of the hearing, Jamie Harvey of Pineville, Mo., told the judge her property in Missouri was traversed by Route 109, but SWEPCO had not notified her. She presented affidavits from 15 of her neighbors who were also not notified.
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