September 15, 2010

PUC urged to dismiss controversial power line through Hill Country

By Candace Velvin, Managing Editor,

Hill Country lawmakers are urging the Public Utility Commission to dismiss another controversial power transmission line while the agency that manages the state’s electricity grid determines if the new lines are needed to transmit wind-generated power across the state as mandated by the legislature.

At a meeting in Austin Wednesday, Sept. 15, the PUC will consider dismissing the proposed McKamey D-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie line pending further studies on whether existing lines can be used rather than building new lines.

Landowners, local governments and Hill County preservation groups such as Clear View Alliance say the proposed new transmission line’s 180-foot-tall towers will devalue Hill Country property, deface the landscape, threaten wildlife habitat and hurt the economy.

While the lines are designed to meet a state legislative mandate to transmit wind-generated power 2,400 miles from West Texas to under-served urban areas, Hill Country lawmakers responding to the concerns of landowners have sent letters urging the PUC to either review the entire Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) program or stop the process and allow the legislature to address the unforeseen issues the mandate has caused.

Proposed routes for the McKamey D-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie transmission line were submitted to the PUC July 28 by the Lower Colorado River Authority Transmission Services Corporation (LCRA TSC).

Since then, 1,018 interveners have opposed the project. Two groups of interveners have filed motions to dismiss the case on grounds cited by PUC staff in a brief recommending dismissal.

After the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the 85-mile Gillespie-Newton transmission line was unnecessary because existing lines could be improved for $97 million less than building the proposed new lines, PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman ordered a similar analysis of the McCamey D-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie line on Aug. 26.

Because the ERCOT study of the Newton-Gillespie line required 12 weeks and Jan. 27, 2011 is the statutory deadline for a PUC decision on a route, the PUC staff recommended the McKamey D-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie transmission line case be dismissed without prejudice to allow ERCOT time to complete its analysis and to prevent the parties to the case from having to expend additional time and resources on litigation, according to a brief filed Sept. 8.

After hearing opposition from 40 Comfort area landowners, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) wrote the PUC in July, urging it to stop the contentious process and let the legislature address it in the upcoming session.

State Rep. Doug Miller (R-New Braunfels) has also been corresponding with the PUC on behalf of constituents opposed to the CREZ lines, his chief of staff, Fritz Reinig, said.

Noting that the ERCOT report “brought into question the necessity and economic justifiability of the McCamey D-Kendall-Gillespie route, as well,” State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) urged the PUC to dismiss the McCamey D-to-Kendall-to-Gillespie CREZ line in a letter dated Sept. 7.

State Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) also called for a review of the entire CREZ system.

“The PUC and ERCOT need to assure all Hill Country residents that existing transmission lines are being fully utilized before adding more transmission projects in the Hill Country,” Hildebran wrote.

“I am requesting that ERCOT reexamine and update the Long-Term System Assessment (LTSA) to determine the need for any or all of the proposed CREZ projects before erecting CREZ lines that will cause great harm to the Hill Country,” he said. “Modernizing existing lines is more environmentally sound, it protects Hill Country landowners, and it’s less expensive than the alternative.”

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