AEP cancels Wind Catcher project after Texas regulatory panel denies certificate

by Talk Business and Politics ([email protected]) 883 views 

The $4.5 billion Wind Catcher project approved by Arkansas regulators in May has been canceled after a July 26 decision by the Public Utility Commission of Texas to deny approval of electric transmission into that state.

Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, the parent company of Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), was behind the project. It had been approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Louisiana Public Service Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A decision was pending at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Wind Catcher would have been the largest wind farm in America and the second-largest in the world once operational. The planned 2,000-megawatt facility would generate power from 800 GE 2.5 megawatt turbines on 300,000 acres.

The Wind Catcher power line was planned as an approximately 350-mile, dedicated, extra-high voltage line. The line would connect a substation at the wind farm with a substation near Tulsa to deliver power across the region. The high voltage power lines would connect to Public Service Company of Oklahoma and SWEPCO customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Construction on the project began in the Oklahoma Panhandle in 2016, with electricity set to be delivered in mid-2020.

“We are disappointed that we will not be able to move forward with Wind Catcher, which was a great opportunity to provide more clean energy, lower electricity costs and a more diverse energy resource mix for our customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas,” Nicholas Akins, AEP chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement. “To realize the full benefits of Wind Catcher for customers, timely approvals were required from all jurisdictions so we could complete the project by the end of 2020 and be eligible for 100 percent of the federal production tax credit. We want to thank our employees and our partners for all of their work on the development of the Wind Catcher project.

Two Texas administrative law judges, Henry Card and Wendy Harvel, had recommended approval of the project to members of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). While the project was supported by some big business interests like Springdale-based Tyson Foods, there was strong opposition to approval in Texas. The powerful Texas Industrial Energy Consumers lobby opposed the plan, saying the financial risk of the project was on ratepayers and not AEP.

Even with concessions and adjustments made by AEP, the Texas commissioners ultimately agreed with those who argued the project was too risky for ratepayers.

“I don’t believe I could approve the PFD, because I don’t believe it provides sufficient safeguards for the ratepayers,” PUC Chair DeAnn Walker said according to this report from RTO Insider. “The costs are known. The benefits are based on a lot of assumptions that are questionable.”