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Oklahoma power line company faces opposition

Plains & Eastern Clean Line Oklahoma LLC is working to overcome landowner opposition to build a $3.5 billion power line to carry wind resources to states hungry for renewable energy.

Plains & Eastern Clean Line Oklahoma LLC plans to spend about $3.5 billion to help move the region’s wind resources to power-hungry eastern states.

The affiliate of Houston’s Clean Line Energy is seeking utility status in Oklahoma and Arkansas, a designation officials insist is vital to the project’s success.

Clean Line is looking to build an 800-mile power line between the Oklahoma Panhandle to the Memphis area, where it could link to the grid serving the southeastern United States.

Mario Hurtado, Clean Line’s executive vice president of development, said achieving the utility designation from state regulators will signal the company is serious about doing things the right way.

“It’s important to have these kind of steps and make sure that people understand that you’re accountable to the right authorities at the state level,” he said.

Hurtado acknowledged Clean Line must address concerns from landowners and others against the project.

The company’s bid for utility status has drawn objection from the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and a pair of property owner groups.

Oklahoma City attorney Bob Gum filed papers seeking to dismiss Clean Line’s application for utility status on behalf of OIPA and the Southern Great Plains Property Rights Coalition.

Both groups contend the Oklahoma Corporation Commission does not have the authority to grant utility status to Clean Line because it does not fit the legal definition of a “public utility.”

Clean Line’s plan to transmit electricity for sale in other states “eliminates” it as a candidate for such status in Oklahoma, according to the OIPA motion.

The groups also are concerned Clean Line is seeking utility status only so it can acquire condemnation powers.

A hearing on Clean Line’s application is scheduled to begin today, but company officials said it could be delayed so the parties can continue to discuss their concerns.

As the project continues to develop, Hurtado said there will be opportunities for Oklahoma residents to learn about the project and share their opinions about it.

“It’s going to take a long time, but we believe by doing this we’re going to do the best job we can,” he said. “We have an obligation to do it right.”

Hurtado said the power line project will be a boon to Oklahoma, bringing thousands of construction jobs, permanent maintenance positions and more than $500 million in investments. It also would boost tax revenue for the state and involved counties.

The new line also would spur additional wind farm development in the region, with most of them likely being built in western Oklahoma, because of increased access to other markets.

“We’re doing this because we know the wind power is there,” he said.

The proposed power line will be capable of transmitting up to 7,000 megawatts of renewable energy, the equivalent of three nuclear power plants.

Officials estimate it could take about two years to get through the permitting, regulatory approval and planning process for the new power line.

Hurtado said Clean Line hopes to begin construction in 2013, with expectations toward getting the line in service by 2015 or 2016.

He said wind power is a clean alternative to meeting the nation’s energy needs, but it is only part of the solution.

“The fuel is free, but it’s not always there,” he said.

Hurtado said natural gas makes a good partner for wind since it results in half the carbon emissions of coal. It also is a flexible fuel that can be used as needed when the wind is not blowing.