Clean Line electric project drawing opposition in Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 232 views 

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line transmission project will reportedly deliver more than 3,500 megawatts “of low-cost wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to utilities and customers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and other markets in the Mid-South and Southeast,” according to the project website.

With “clean energy” transported via a 700-mile overhead direct current (DC) transmission line, the effort will “create thousands of jobs, stimulate economic development, reduce pollution and water consumption, and enhance energy security and system reliability," according to the company.

Clean Line Energy Partners President Michael Skelly is a former Democratic candidate for Texas’s 7th Congressional District. Prior to founding Clean Line, Skelly led the development of Horizon Wind Energy from a two-man company to a prominent role in the U.S. wind industry. Before Horizon, he developed thermal, hydroelectric, biomass and wind energy projects in Central America with Energia Global.

With Clean Line, he hopes to “create alliances that will benefit the communities impacted by our projects” and notes that the project is “working with local companies that will manufacture the transmission structures and source raw materials from within the states that our projects traverse.”

Sounds good, right?

Not if you ask the “Block P and E” Facebook group or the larger Block Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) movement or the team of volunteers who put together this exhibit for the Arkansas legislature. In fact, a growing number of citizens and Arkansas’ Senate delegation have their reservations.

In Arkansas, the 200-foot right-of-way enters in Crawford County north of Van Buren and travels below Alma and Dyer before dissecting Mulberry to follow a line with Interstate 40 through most of Franklin County. From there, the line travels through Johnson County, Pope County, northern Conway County, southern Van Buren County, southern Cleburne County, White County, Jackson County, Poinsett County, Cross County, and exiting Arkansas through Mississippi County north of Memphis. (Link here for an interactive map of the route through Arkansas.)

One point of contention is Clean Line’s negotiated rate authority from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which detractors say will eventually be passed on to the backs of ratepayers. They’ve also been blamed for a lack of transparency in presenting financials and plan details to potentially affected landowners. There’s also the eminent domain issue, which has property owners uncomfortable — a concern recently brought to light by the Iowa Utilities Board’s (IUB) denial of a motion to consider eminent domain in a separate hearing.

From the IUB ruling: “The constitutional due process concerns alone are sufficient to justify denial of the motion. Even if it is assumed that those concerns could be addressed by clear notices, splitting the hearing would still improve the convenience of a few parties while detrimentally affecting the convenience of many others, particularly the affected landowners. The Board will deny the motion to consider eminent domain issues in a separate proceeding. … Clean Line’s convenience (and costs) would be benefited, but at the same time landowner interests would be detrimentally affected.”

Justin LaVan, an attorney for the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, applauded the decision in a statement.

“Thousands of Iowa landowners appreciate the IUB’s extensive review of such motions and ruling issued today,” he said. “This ruling was significant. If the hearing was bifurcated and the Board issued the franchises and determined the route following the first hearing, RICL’s negotiating leverage over the landowners would have been prejudicially powerful.”

Carolyn Sheridan, the group’s President, agreed.

“Rock Island Clean Line easement acquisition effort has been underway for 18 months for the 375 Iowa miles of its proposed route, but RICL has less than 15% voluntary easements obtained from total parcels (1540) across the 16 impacted counties in Iowa. There is an unprecedented number (1248 and counting) of formal objections filed with the IUB against RICL proposed line," she noted in this press release.

The Missouri Public Service Commission also said it would “require additional information” from Clean Line’s Grain Belt Express Clean Line (GBE) before it could “grant or deny” its application for a certificate of convenience and necessity, stating that GBE would need to “provide a list of all properties on the selected project route in Missouri and designate for which properties easements have been acquired or are yet to be acquired to facilitate completion of the proposed Clean Line Energy project,” thus playing into accusations that Clean Line isn’t being transparent with landowners.

Missouri’s PSC also cited 12 additional items on which GBE had failed to provide adequate details of its plan, giving project coordinators until April 11, 2015, to do so.

Adding to Clean Line’s potential issues, on Feb. 12, U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced a bill that could negatively affect Clean Line across all states, not just Arkansas. Their bill, if enacted, would give states power to reject federal electric transmission projects like Clean Line on the grounds of eminent domain concerns and federal intrusion on private land.

“When a road, pipeline or power line is built the use of eminent domain is sadly unavoidable in some cases,” Boozman said. “However, this difficult decision should not be in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. If a project is not good for Arkansas, our governor or public service commission should have the power to say ‘no.’”

“Arkansans should have a say in any decision that affects our land,” said Cotton. “The APPROVAL act will rightly empower Arkansans and preserve the Founding Fathers vision of states’ rights.”

In addition to allowing states the ability to reject the use of federal eminent domain for a project, the APPROVAL Act from Boozman and Cotton would ensure “to the extent possible,” that approved projects are placed on federal land rather than on private land. Specifically, for approved projects, DOE would be required (to the maximum extent possible) to site projects on existing rights-of-way and federal land managed by: (1) the Bureau of Land Management, (2) the U.S. Forest Service, (3) the Bureau of Reclamation, and (4) the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Act has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for further review.

Despite the pushback and setbacks, Clean Line’s applications for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) and Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) are still under review. In October 2011, Oklahoma approved Plains and Eastern Clean Line’s application to conduct business as a public utility.

Citizens interested or concerned with how the Plains and Eastern Clean Line might affect them can provide their comments directly to the DOE through March 19, 2015.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is available for review at this link.