Just over a week after the Department of Energy (DOE) staff provided an update on the status of the controversial Plains & Eastern Clean Line Transmission development, Arkansas’ congressional delegation fired off a letter Tuesday (Sept. 15) to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asking him to address state’s rights concern over the DOE’s oversight of the multi-state, renewable energy project.
The letter, signed by U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack and Bruce Westerman, outlines the Arkansas lawmakers’ opposition to the use of the DOE’s application process to approve the project. It also calls on DOE to legally justify its potential actions to approve the project that Clean Line officials hope to begin construction on by 2017.
“Again, we believe the project does not meet the statutory requirements of Section 1222, and state-level reviews of many serious concerns are necessary. Therefore, in our federal lawmaking and oversight role, we oppose the use of Section 1222 in this context and we urge you to disapprove it,” argued the six Arkansas Republican lawmakers.
“We recognize that in many contexts the development of new electric transmission infrastructure is necessary despite costs and adverse impacts. We are not taking a position on whether this Project or any other should move forward under non-federal authorities,” the congressional letter states.
This is the second such letter Arkansas’ congressional delegation has sent to Moniz concerning the Clean Line project – a $2 billion electric transmission line privately-financed venture that officials say will deliver up to 3,500 megawatts (MW) of wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to communities in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states in the Mid-South and Southeast.
When first announced in 2010, Clean Line officials said the project would take five to seven years to complete. The Houston-based renewable energy group has also said it expects to fund all development costs, but does not plan to seek cost recovery through the electric rates paid by consumers in the state.
While supporters of the project tout its environmental upside – the transmission of wind energy – opponents are fighting it in part because of the federal oversight, state’s rights issues and eminent domain authority related to land acquisition for the project.
At the behest of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, the DOE extended the deadline for the second public comment period on the project’s Notice of Application and supporting materials under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That deadline was originally expected to close on June 12, but was extended to July 13 after the controversial project came into public view.
However, there was no such congressional intervention during the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) review that ended on April 20. Comments submitted during the first review period that dealt with Clean Line’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the DOE.
On Sept. 3, DOE Program Manager Angie Colamaria sent out an email update concerning the Clean Line application, saying the agency would consider all comments it received over 76 days during the two review periods.
“DOE appreciates the public’s participation in both of these processes and is especially grateful for the detailed comments that raised specific issues for DOE to consider in our evaluation of Clean Line’s application,” Colamaria wrote. “DOE is considering all comments received during both processes as we conduct our detailed analyses.”
Colamaria also said that many of those comments have already resulted in changes made to the environmental impact study (EIS) and minor “route variations” to the proposed footprint of the controversial transmission line. The DOE manager said she anticipates the final EIS will be published sometime this fall.
Concerning the more controversial non-NEPA review process that was extended an extra 30 days, Colamaria said those comments are being categorized and analyzed by the DOE and its financial, market, technical and legal specialists.
“These comments, along with the Plains and Eastern Final EIS, will be provided to the Office of the Secretary of Energy to inform the Secretary’s decision whether, and under what conditions, to participate with Clean Line,” the DOE program manager wrote.
According to federal regulations, Moniz has the authority to “design, develop, construct, operate, own or participate with other entities in designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining or owning transmission projects.” But Arkansas congressional officials said the decision regarding electric transmissions should be “appropriately left to elected officials at the state and local level, where they have resided for generations.”
“State and local officials can most effectively weigh the questions and concerns raised in this letter—and more importantly, concerns raised by our constituents—and determine whether such projects should be permitted,” the Arkansas delegation states in its letter Moniz.
The letter, here, also asks Moniz a 13-point series of questions urging the DOE secretary to protect each state’s authority to oversee transmission projects.
Meanwhile, the grassroots opposition group, BLOCK Plains & Eastern Clean Line: Arkansas & Oklahoma, along with their sister BLOCK groups in other states, applauded the Arkansas lawmakers letter to halt federal oversight of a project rejected by the Arkansas Public Service Commission in 2010.
“Because of the way the 1222 process has unfolded without official public hearings, the people have not been able to demand answers to questions from Clean Line under oath,” said BLOCK spokesperson, Dave Ulery. “The result is that Clean Line, even though they are not a utility in our state, can go from town to town presenting themselves as developers promising all kinds of benefits to local communities without having those claims legally vetted by any state agency.”
Ulery added: “The questions raised by our delegation in this letter are ones that we need to know the answers to before this project moves forward any further. Especially if there are potential risks to taxpayers and ratepayers, as the letter seeks to clarify.”
In response to the DOE letter from Arkansas’ congressional representatives, Clean Line officials said the wind-powered transmission project will bring hundreds of jobs, more than a $500 million investment and low-cost clean energy to Arkansas.
“Clean Line will pay over five million dollars annually in ad valorem revenues that will benefit local communities in Arkansas,” the Houston-based energy investment group said in a statement. “Clean Line takes private property rights very seriously and values one-on-one conversations with landowners to answer questions and address concerns. We continue to work with the Arkansas congressional delegation, state leadership and the people of Arkansas to follow the appropriate processes that ensure a fair hearing for all involved.”
In a query from Talk Business & Politics, DOE spokeswoman Dawn Selak said she did not have any updates concerning a timetable on a final decision from Secretary Moniz on the agency’s federal oversight or participation in the project.