March 18, 2010:
- Judges Support San Saba Citizens onLocating Wind Transmission Lines
In the ongoing legal and political debate about transmission lines intended to bring new wind-powered electricity from West Texas to East Texas, two Administrative Law Judges(ALJs) found this month that the best location for transmission lines scheduled between the cities of Brown and Newton for the investor-owned wire company ONCOR would be north of the Colorado River along proposed “Route 140.” The Proposal for Decision (PFD) of ALJs Travis Vickery and Hunter Burkhalter now goes to the three commissioners of the Public Utility Commission (PUC) for an expected final decision on April 1st, although appeals are still possible.
In making their decision, the ALJs looked at cost, crossings into environmentally sensitive land, proximity to existing roadways, transmission lines and other disturbed land, and proximity to population centers (see Table). The ALJs recommended Route 140, favored by a local group of landowners known as POSSE (Preserving Our San Saba Environment), and not Route 155, favored by ONCOR. While the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club did not take a position on which route it preferred, it did object to the route chosen by ONCOR and said ONCOR and the PUC should find a route that avoided river crossings, environmentally sensitive land, and – to the extent possible – followed existing transmission lines and highways, like Highway 183. Interestingly, proposed Route 140 appears to be slightly cheaper than Route 255 and other routes considered by the ALJs. The Lone Star Chapter participated in the process as a deposed witness at the request of POSSE.
The ONCOR Newton to Brown transmission dispute is just the first of several high-profile transmission cases involving the location of transmission lines in West Texas and into the Hill Country. The cases involve the issue how to balance two environmental goals of conservation groups: clean energy development and habitat conservation. Because the best wind resources – and some solar resources – are located in West Texas far from the major cities of Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, additional transmission lines are needed. The Sierra Club has been in favor of the increased wind development but has also submitted comments calling for greater attention to the location of those lines and providing more explicit guidance to transmission line developers and the PUC on how to locate those lines to avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
In 2005, the Texas Legislature approved SB 20, which not only increased the requirement on retail electric providers to obtain a small part of their electricity from renewable resources, but obligated the PUC to select transmission companies to build out transmission lines to Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZ. The PUC then approved both CREZ regions and the companies to build the transmission lines, which should increase the amount of wind capacity in Texas from the current level of 9,000 MWs to about 18,000 MWs by 2014 when the CREZ lines are completed.
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