The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Friday issued a Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project.
The project is to build transmission lines from wind-powered generators in the Oklahoma panhandle to the Tennessee Valley Authority north of Memphis. The project will take transmission lines from the panhandle across Oklahoma, including Sequoyah County, and across Arkansas. Many landowners and others oppose the project.
The DOE approval gives Clean Line Energy the go-ahead to enter the final stage of development and prepare for construction, which could start as early as 2017, a spokesman for the company reported. Over the next two years, major project activities include conducting field surveys, acquiring rights-of-way for construction, and negotiating and executing customer contracts.
Over the next two years, as preparations are made for construction, Clean Line will continue to negotiate with landowners and acquire the necessary rights-of-way for the project in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Members of the Clean Line team are available to landowners via their toll-free number- 1 (877) 573-2851.
About easement payments, Clean Line Energy is committing to compensating landowners fairly, the company states. Clean Line’s landowner compensation package will include an easement payment based on the size and market value of the easement acreage required and an additional payment for each structure placed on the landowner’s property.
As an example, and based on a fair-market appraisal of $2,000 per acre, a landowner would be paid that amount per acre crossed by a 150-to-200-foot-wide easement.
The landowner whose property also has structures will be paid, based on the type of line-supporting structure, from $500 to $2,000 annually or a one-time payment of $6,000 or $24,000. The choice is up to the landowner.
Clean Line also compensates landowners for crop damage, irrigation or drainage interference and for any commercially marketable timber that is cleared.
Still, many landowners oppose the project and the prospect of having the lines cross their properties. Jim Rogers, Sequoyah County District 3 County Commissioner, voiced his concerns and those of landowners who are in Clean Line’s transmission path in Sequoyah County.
Rogers said many landowners fear eminent domain will be used to force use of property for the transmission line.
Clean Line energy responded that is a course of last resort.
Clean Line’s reply: “Clean Line will strive to acquire the easements through voluntary transactions negotiated in good faith. If Clean Line is unable to finalize an easement agreement for a parcel in Oklahoma and Arkansas due to title issues, inability to locate the owner, or exhaustion of reasonable negotiations, Clean Line will turn negotiations for an easement over such parcel to the Department of Energy (DOE), and DOE will complete right-of-way acquisition, which may include, as a last resort, the need to pursue condemnation. In all cases, landowners will be entitled to just compensation.”
Some fear the easement area will extend to 600 feet wide, and limit construction by the same 600 feet. That is not true, Clean Line replied. In addition, farming and ranching under the transmission lines may continue as normal.
Clean Line officials said, “Clean Line estimates that the right-of-way for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line will be between 150 to 200 feet wide. Any restrictions due to North American Electric Reliability Corporation Standards will apply to that 150-200 foot wide easement area only. Farming of row crops (e.g., wheat, corn, soybeans, etc.) can continue under the lines. There will be sufficient clearance under the transmission line to grow full-height crops (up to about 10 feet tall), not including tree crops, and to operate standard farm equipment. Ranching and grazing are also compatible and will not be restricted.”
Taxes to the County
Rogers said it is feared that, once complete, the transmission line may be sold to a government agency – Southwest Power Administration – that is not obligated to pay taxes.
Clean Line replied there is “No” chance the transmission line will be sold to Southwest Power Administration.
The company responded, “Clean Line will own all the facilities associated with the project in Oklahoma and will make all applicable ad valorem tax payments to local jurisdictions, in accordance with local and state laws. The Oklahoma Tax Commission assesses public utilities. Ad valorem tax payments would be made on an annual basis in accordance with local and state laws to the relevant counties and taxing authorities. In the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Department of Energy estimated that, based on projected asset values, the project would pay Oklahoma counties a total of $13 million in the first year of operation.”
In Sequoyah County, Clean Line Energy is to make an up front payment of $295,000 to Sequoyah County. The ad valorem payment for Sequoyah County is $1.2 million annually.
Clean Line does have a partnership agreement with Southwest Power Administration. The company explained, “Clean Line has entered into a Participation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to carry out the project. The Department of Energy will own certain project facilities but Clean Line will be responsible for carrying out construction, operations and maintenance activities. Southwestern would play an important role in carrying out certain project activities in consultation with the Department of Energy. These activities could include oversight of Clean Line’s conformance with environmental and cultural resource obligations.”
In a press release, Clean Line Energy Partners reported, “DOE’s decision marks a critically important step towards the construction of America’s largest clean energy infrastructure project. The $2.5 billion project—100 percent funded by private investment—will support thousands of jobs in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, including hundreds of manufacturing jobs in those states.”
4,000 MG to 1 Million Homes, But Not Here
Clean Line stated that the DOE finds that “the project as proposed will serve the public interest by facilitating renewable energy development, stimulating economic development, generating revenues for needed public investment, and doing so while minimizing impacts to landowners and the natural environment.”
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will enable the delivery of 4,000 megawatts (MW) of low-cost, clean power from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to customers in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states in the Mid-South and Southeast. The project will deliver enough power for more than one million American homes.
Rogers notes that power, which he suspects is not ‘low-cost,’ is not available locally. But Clean Line continues to refer to the power transmitted as low-cost, and the project provides jobs and is a step in providing low-cost clean energy to everyone.
“The Department of Energy’s decision shows that great things are happening in America today. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in the nation and will modernize the U.S. electric grid while bringing forth new investment, job creation, and more low-cost power for American consumers,” said Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy.
Skelly said, “After several years of extensive evaluation, we now have the major regulatory approvals in place to begin construction in 2017. We look forward to continuing to invest in this project so that thousands of people have jobs and millions of consumers benefit from the delivery of low-cost clean power. We are encouraged by the strong market demand for low-cost, clean energy and anticipate that interest will only increase now that the project has this essential decision.”
Project Expands Wind Energy Development
Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said, “We were aware of many wind developers and manufacturers standing ready to get to work. With the path clear for infrastructure needed to get clean energy to market, those wind companies can now invest, build projects, and create jobs in the Oklahoma Panhandle region.”
Clean Line Energy, in the press release, stated, “The DOE decision is critical in allowing for the delivery of new low-cost, renewable energy generation to market. In 2015 the area around Woodward saw the most congestion in the Southwest Power Pool’s 14-state footprint, as a result of insufficient transmission infrastructure to handle the power Oklahoma is producing. Without the new capacity that the Plains & Eastern Clean Line will provide any additional wind build-out will intensify the challenge, meaning wind developers in the Oklahoma Panhandle who are eager to invest are unable to move forward with projects due to the lack of necessary transmission.”
Skelly added, “We appreciate the DOE’s in-depth review and careful consideration of the project. We share their commitment to treat all landowners with fairness and respect, as well as their determination to build necessary infrastructure while conserving the environment. We appreciate the thousands of stakeholders across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee who participated in DOE’s environmental review and regulatory process and provided us with important feedback over the years. We will continue to work with landowners, local businesses, and the many other stakeholders across the project area.”
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will provide about $1 billion of private investment in Oklahoma and will grow Oklahoma’s clean energy economy by enabling several billion dollars of investment in new renewable energy facilities in the Oklahoma Panhandle region.
For more information regarding the Plains & Eastern Clean Line project, including maps and contact information, residents can visit Clean Line’s project website at PlainsAndEasternCleanLine.com. Clean Line stated that representatives are available to answer questions and meet in person with stakeholders.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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