An Austin judge recommended Monday that the state Public Utility Commission approve a controversial route for Sharyland Utilities’ wind energy transmission lines from Hereford to White Deer.
The recommended route would put transmission lines running west of Amarillo near Wildorado and then east along the Canadian River breaks, instead of between Amarillo and Canyon or across the Palo Duro Canyon, all of which also were controversial routes.
The project would cost about $190.5 million for 91 miles of lines to be paid by electric customers downstate.
Opposition to the routes pit claims that economic development would be crushed against environmental and cultural preservation arguments.
Administrative Law Judge Shannon Kilgore issued the ruling that the PUC should approve the northern route. However, the PUC commissioners can choose any proposed route or create one. PUC staff previously recommended a route just south of Amarillo in the vicinity of Sundown Lane while Sharyland preferred the northern route.
“There is no solution that lacks serious drawbacks,” according to the ruling. But there are “degrees of acceptability.”
Some opponents, mostly those owning land in the potentially affected areas, argued the northern route threatens fragile grassland habitat, scenic views and historical artifacts. However, there also were opposition comments from non-landowners. Also, the route will require clearing a strip 175 feet across through about 30 miles of wooded land. In addition, there would be roads to clear for maintenance trucks.
The opposition to the route between Amarillo and Canyon claimed planned residential and commercial development would be halted by the towers that will be 125 feet high, or about 12 stories. Not only did businesses object, political figures like Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell joined more than 250 people who submitted comments or testified against the route.
Those opposing the route crossing the head of Palo Duro Canyon or the canyon far to the south argued the lines would hurt the chances for further residential development and cause aesthetic harm to state park visitors, landowners and others.
“As to the Palo Duro Canyon, it is beyond dispute that the canyon is considered an iconic feature of the Texas landscape,” Kilgore wrote.
The decision now moves to the PUC, where commissioners have until Dec. 13 to make a final ruling.
“Any route ultimately chosen will necessarily have distinct and troubling disadvantages because of the imperfection of all the alternatives,” according to Kilgore’s ruling.
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