DOE releases environmental study, selects ‘preferred route’ for Clean Line project

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 163 views 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line transmission project, a controversial $2 billion electric transmission line that proposes to deliver up to 3,500 megawatts (MW) of wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to communities in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states.

Based on the analysis presented in the executive summary of the 88-page EIS, the Energy Department identified a preferred route for the direct current transmission line and preferred locations for a delivery converter station in Arkansas as well as a converter station and associated project facilities in Oklahoma.

Clean Line officials said Wednesday that the department’s final analysis of the 700-mile project marks a key milestone for the multistate transmission project, marking the end of the environmental analysis and a step towards the construction of the wind-powered development. However, a final decision whether or not the federal agency will participate in the multistate development is yet to come.

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.)

In its executive summary, which also includes hundreds of pages of supporting documents, the Energy Department said it “evaluated the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on 19 environmental resource areas that include 25 features of the natural environment and matters of social, cultural, and economic concern.”

“In some instances, variations were either not feasible or the variations were potentially feasible, but provided no added benefit or reduction in potential environmental impacts. In these instances, no variation was adopted,” said the DOE’s summary. “In several instances, based on the new information, a route variation that could avoid potential conflicts and lessen the potential environmental impact of the Applicant Proposed Route was developed. In these instances, route variations were proposed.”

According to Clean Line officials, the final environmental impact report “did not identify widespread significant impacts as a result of construction or operations and maintenance of the Project.” The department also concluded that implementation of the environmental protection measures by the Houston energy company would avoid or minimize the potential for significant environmental effects.

“The release of the Final EIS marks the culmination of more than five years of work and the consideration of thousands of stakeholder comments,” said Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy. “We are pleased to have reached this important project milestone and appreciate DOE’s careful environmental review and analysis of the Plains & Eastern project.”

At the behest of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation in September, 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 EIS prepared by the DOE. Alison Millsaps, spokeswoman for grassroots opposition group, the BLOCK Plains & Eastern Clean Line: Arkansas & Oklahoma, said although the group was disappointed in the DOE’s preferred action, “At this point, we’re happy about anything that brings clarity to this situation.”

Millsaps said the group appreciated the department’s response but does not mean Clean Line has passed the 1222 review, and is not an indication that any partnership has been approved by DOE Secretary Moniz.

“The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement means a lot of people who’ve been holding their breath for months can start taking concrete steps to protect themselves,” Millsaps said. “Our focus now, as a group, is to make sure landowners know there are options.”

According to federal regulations, DOE Secretary Ernest 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.” Arkansas’ congressional delegation has countered that the decision regarding electric transmissions should be “appropriately left to elected officials at the state and local level, where they have resided for generations.”

Clean Line said they expect a Record of Decision (ROD) by the end of this year. That decision will rule on whether and how DOE and Southwestern Power Administration would participate in the project, and the preferred locations for project facilities in Oklahoma and Arkansas.