Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Opponents of the proposed American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) 345-kiloVolt transmission line may get some help on the statewide level with efforts to reform eminent domain laws due to growing citizen opposition.
Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy is a citizen group organizing in western Arkansas to oppose their land being taken for a proposed Plains & Clean Line transmission line that would carry wind-generated power from the panhandle of Oklahoma through Arkansas and Tennessee to deliver power to the East Coast. Recently about 150 people attended a hearing in Mulberry to organize opposition to the transmission line that would carry 600 kiloVolts of power – 1.7 times the amount of electricity as proposed by SWEPCO for its Shipe Road to Kings River Crossing transmission line. The $2-billion Clean Line project would transect the state for 750 miles.
Residents of the proposed Clean Line have many of the same concerns as the SWEPCO line citizen opposition group Save The Ozarks (STO): health hazards from the strong electric current, disruption of the area’s scenic natural beauty, negative impacts to tourism, and reduced property values. Clean Line opponents are also concerned the line would interfere with migratory bird flyways.
At the Mulberry meeting, State Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas of Alma said she understands the concerns of residents about losing the use of their land. At least two other legislators have also come out in opposition to the line.
In 2011, Clean Line was turned down by the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) for utility status in the state because the proposed line went through the state without benefiting the state. But now Clean Line Energy Partners has announced plans to build a $100-million convertor station in central Arkansas that would allow sales of the power in Arkansas.
“Clean Line is apparently getting their ducks in a row to re-apply to APSC for utility status, which will give them the power of eminent domain in Arkansas,” said STO Director Pat Costner. “I expect this to put APSC and Arkansas eminent domain laws in the spotlight.”
The issue is one where environmentalists can disagree. Fayetteville architect Mikel Lolley, who is a clean energy activist, initially was on the fence with the goals and aspirations of the federal government and the Department of Energy (DOE) and Clean Line in mitigating carbon emissions by connecting the wind belt to demand on the East and West coasts. He said he wasn’t sure stopping the Clean Line project is the best thing to do.
“Those lines have to go through somewhere,” said Lolley, who has followed the Clean Line project for four years. “There is a huge push from the federal government DOE to have 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. from wind energy by 2030. Clean line has approximately five or six of these huge transmission projects underway connecting the wind corridor to the demand both east and west. We are collectively late and in need of a rapid crisis response, all hands on deck, if we have a chance in hell of topping out global warming at two degrees Celsius in the next two decades.”
Lolley said stopping Clean Line is perhaps not the best approach given the sheer scale of the forces behind seeing this project get built. It might be better to instead focusing on getting the best deal Arkansans can receive for giving up their land for right-of-way by driving up adequate compensation up front, and also require ongoing compensation to the state of Arkansas and those in the right-of-way for taxes levied on the electrons moved through the state for years into the future like collections from a toll road.
Costner disagreed that trying to stop Clean Line is not the best approach. “It is the only approach that will protect the quality of life, environment and livelihoods of the people in the path of the transmission line,” she said. “When it comes to basic values, there is no such thing as a ‘best deal.’ Basic values are not for sale at any price. So, I say, go all out to stop Clean Line.”
Costner said it is clear that decentralized energy generation and distribution, e.g., microgrids of on-site solar and wind generation, are far more reliable and far less vulnerable than a national power grid of extra-high voltage power lines.
“Some of us have been making necessary personal changes, and have been leading by example for some time,” Costner said. “Eight years ago, my photovoltaic system was Carroll Electric Cooperative’s first experience with a grid-tied system. Today, there are many more grid-tied and off-grid systems and their growth rate is exponential, nationally as well as here in Carroll County.”
Doug Stowe, a member of the STO board of directors, said when commodities are created a great distance from the end user, we have very little sense of real accountability or responsibility for the effects of how we choose to live our lives or use valuable resources.
“This is true whether we’re talking about the food we eat, the products we use or wear, or the electrons we burn in our light bulbs,” Stowe said. “If it is OK to destroy the forests of northwest Arkansas for the sake of transporting the electrons from the plains of Oklahoma and Kansas to the power hungry East Coast, by the same token it is OK to destroy the Amazon for a bit of gold, or Appalachian mountain tops for coal. Where the source of supply is estranged from the end user, as it is in too many cases, there are environmental consequences that involve irresponsible management of resources.”
A company Stowe has dealt with for more than 30 years recently installed roof top solar photovoltaic panels on their large manufacturing facility in Massachusetts. They are generating 97 percent of their power now locally and off grid.
“If that kind of development can take place in cloudy, cold, Massachusetts, please explain to me why it would be reasonable to give up the beauty of Arkansas – whether by Clean Line or by the Shipe Road to Kings River line – to carry wind energy to the East Coast?” Stowe asked.
Stowe said the ideal use of wind power is to supply small communities in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa with an abundance of clean energy. At those locations, they can assess the environmental costs as reflected in their own lives, not simply roll over to the moneyed interests from outside their communities that only care about profits.
Lolley ended up being persuaded by the arguments of Stowe and Costner.
“I agree with you that distributed generation is our best opportunity to produce electrons near where they are consumed, and therefore inherently more likely to be much more efficient, mitigating transmission line losses, unnecessary infrastructure and cultivating greater resilience through a decentralized de facto smart grid,” he said. “The biggest problem I have with Clean Line is it reinforces the power, wealth and control in the hands of the one percent who have been outsourcing our manufacturing sector, off-shoring their profits, hollowing out our middle class, and dodging their fair share of taxes. So, Doug and Pat, I stand persuaded and with you in opposition of the Clean Line project.”
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