Plug Pulled On Ozarks Power Line But Not Because Of Public Concern

Dec 30, 2014

Previously proposed routes for SWEPCO's Shipe Road-Kings River Transmission Line Project.
Credit arktimes.com

A controversial $116 million transmission line proposal for northwest Arkansas is being withdrawn by Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO). The company said in a statement Tuesday that there is no longer enough demand to justify the project.

The high-voltage power line has drawn opposition as it has been reviewed by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Pat Costner, director of Save the Ozarks, organized opposition to the once-proposed power line based on property and environmental concerns.

Costner said public participation mattered but it ultimately didn’t force the hands of SWEPCO or the state regulatory agency overseeing the project’s approval.

“We of course were able to help generate, evoke more than 6,000 public comments. Did those 6,000 opposing comments carry any weight with the public service commission in their decisions? I would say not perceptibly. So, does making public comments serve a purpose? Yes it does, but it serves effectively no purpose in the regulatory framework,” said Costner.

However, public pressure did result in the APSC in June reexamining the line’s route and the case made by the company for the project’s need. A revised report by SWEPCO demonstrating need was expected in late January, but was precluded by the determination made Tuesday. Costner said the early release took her by surprise.

The bottom line for SWEPCO, and not deference for public concern, is what drove the decision, said Costner. In addition to impassioned calls to prioritize the ecology and beauty of the Ozarks her organization had been making the case all along that demand did not merit the 50-mile project.

“If they were going to succumb to pressure they would have done it earlier than now. I think they ran their modeling exercises again and found precisely what we had been saying,” said Costner.

This is not the only high-voltage line in Arkansas drawing the ire of some with property in the path of proposed routes. A $2 billion cross-state transmission project is being considered by regulatory officials. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line would run from south of Fort Smith, across the state to the east, just south of West Memphis.

SWEPCO's statement:

SHREVEPORT, La., Dec. 30, 2014 –Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) today withdrew its pending application for state regulatory approval to construct a $116 million 345 kilovolt (kV) electric transmission project in Northwest Arkansas. The withdrawal is the result of notification by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) that the proposed project is no longer needed.

SPP is the Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure, and competitive wholesale prices of electricity in parts of eight states, including Arkansas.

In its notification letter SPP said it based its determination primarily on updated forecasts that show significantly lower electric demand than prior forecasts in an area identified as having the highest impact on the need for the project. In addition the cancellation of several large, long-term transmission service reservations further reduces reliability needs in the area. SPP has initiated the process to withdraw the Notification to Construct (NTC), which was the basis for SWEPCO’s application to the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

“As a transmission owning member of SPP, SWEPCO’s role is to obtain regulatory approval and to construct electric transmission facilities as directed by SPP. SPP determines the need for projects based on studies containing future load growth and other transmission system usage projections,” said Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. “Based on SPP’s new findings, we are notifying landowners, community leaders and elected officials that we have withdrawn our application to the APSC for authority to construct the Shipe Road to Kings River transmission project.”

As part of its long-term transmission planning process, SPP issued a NTC in February 2008 that directed SWEPCO to build multiple transmission projects across the region over an eight-year period to meet projected reliability needs. The last of those was a new 345 kV transmission line approximately 60 miles long from western Benton County to a new substation in Carroll County, Arkansas. The project was scheduled to be in service in June 2016.

In April 2013, SWEPCO filed an application with the APSC for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) to construct the facilities. On Jan. 17, 2014, an administrative law judge for the APSC issued Order No. 32 granting a CECPN for the 345 kV transmission project.

In response to requests for rehearing of the application made in March 2014, the APSC granted a rehearing, vacated the prior CECPN and indicated additional evidence on the need for the facilities and proposed transmission line routing was necessary for a final decision by the full Commission. SPP agreed to conduct a re-evaluation. The SPP study yielded different results than the previous analyses due to reduction in forecasted load and a reduction in long-term transmission service transactions by SPP’s transmission customers since the time of the last evaluation.

As a result, on Dec. 29, 2014, SPP notified SWEPCO that its study results now indicate that the proposed 345 kV transmission line is not required to maintain reliability in the northern Arkansas and southern Missouri area. SPP said it is initiating the process to withdraw the NTC, which is expected to be finalized in January 2015.

SWEPCO serves more than 524,000 customers in western Arkansas, northwest and central Louisiana, northeast Texas and the Texas Panhandle.