Arkansas lawmakers meet with Energy Secretary on Clean Line project, no answers on state’s rights concerns

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 236 views 

Arkansas’ congressional delegation met with Energy Department (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday (Dec. 10) but came away from the meeting without any feedback on how federal officials may decide on the controversial $2 billion Clean Line project.

In the meeting, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., along with U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; French Hill, R-Little Rock; Steve Womack, R-Rogers; and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, set out to get answers to questions they asked in September about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project.

“We appreciate Secretary Moniz listening to our concerns about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project and the use of Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to implement this project. We continue to have serious concerns that this project erodes the rights of local communities and the State of Arkansas to have a seat at the table in the decision making process,” the congressional delegation said in a joint statement.

The meeting comes nearly a month after the DOE released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed $2 billion Plains and Eastern Clean Line transmission project to 3,500 megawatts (MW) of wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to communities in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states.

The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is an approximately 700-mile-long direct current transmission line to deliver electricity from the Oklahoma panhandle to Arkansas, Tennessee and other states in the mid-South and southeast. 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.

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.

According to federal Section 1222 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.” 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 officials have 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.

In September, Arkansas’ congressional delegation asked the Secretary to address their detailed concerns about the federal government’s possible unprecedented partnership with a third party to construct an electrical transmission project through Arkansas. The insufficient responses to their questions led members to request a meeting with Secretary Moniz in early November.

Ryan Saylor, spokesman for Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said Secretary Moniz did not offer any indication on whether he will address state’s rights concern over the DOE’s oversight of the multi-state, renewable energy project. In September, the congressional delegation called on DOE to legally justify its potential actions to approve the project that Clean Line officials hope to begin construction on by 2017.

Saylor offered this statement from Rep. Westerman: “Unfortunately, the federal government continues to show little respect for this important personal liberty. Today, we urged Secretary Moniz to stand up for what is right, to stand up for private property owners instead of using federal eminent domain laws to benefit a company denied right of way by the state of Arkansas.”

Westerman said if the transmission line is approved and built through Arkansas, “it would be the equivalent of an interstate highway through the state with one off-ramp to dump western-generated renewable energy into Arkansas with no on-ramp for delivering Arkansas-generated energy to eastern markets.”

Saylor said Sens. Boozman and Cotton also met privately with Secretary Moniz after the meeting with the entire Arkansas congressional delegation. Boozman and Cotton placed a hold on the confirmation vote of a DOE nominee earlier this month. Sara Lasure, spokeswoman for Sen. Boozman, said Secretary Moniz didn’t provide a timeline of when a decision on the Clean Line project would be made. She said Moniz told members, however, that he would provide detailed answers to the questions they asked in the letter sent in September.

Clean Line CEO Michael Skelly recently told Talk Business & Politics during a trip to Little Rock that he has sat down and met with Senators Boozman and Cotton one-on-one to hear their concerns.

“They have their views, and they have articulated those views, and we have a different view,” Skelly said. “But listen, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed and signed into law by then President (George) Bush. When we made our application under that law. If the rules change – then we will look at the new rules and try to make our project work.”

Skelly said the historic energy legislation passed with the recognition that it is a national priority to build new infrastructure projects to replace the U.S.’s aging energy framework.

“That was the spirit of that legislation, and we’ve responded to that. But it is troubling for any investors when the rules change midstream, but we will try to adapt to whatever rules the (DOE) comes up with.”