Opposition to the construction of high-voltage transmission lines in Texas could result in a smaller-scale project than originally envisioned by state officials, State Sen. Kirk Watson told a crowd of local workforce leaders Wednesday at a conference on renewable energy and state politics.
“Elected officials and regulators are working at scaling back and actually scrapping portions of the CREZ lines,” Watson said, referring to the roughly $5 billion project designed to allow electricity to flow from wind farms in West Texas to the state’s more heavily populated areas.
Watson, D-Austin, spoke at the Hunter Welcome Center in an event organized by regional representatives of the Texas Workforce Commission Workforce Development Boards, including the board for the Abilene region.
The CREZ acronym stands for Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, a designation first made by the state Legislature in 2005. The project was conceived as a way to ensure that wind farm and other energy developers have a way to sell a greater percentage of their electricity, clearing an obstacle to the further development of such projects.
Some landowners have objected to the placement of steel towers on which power lines are strung, though only about four or five towers are needed for each mile of route,
Locally, some landowners have contested a few routes that cut across portions of Coleman, Runnels, Taylor and other counties, with the transmission lines rerouted as a result.
But state utility officials earlier this month recommended changing CREZ plans to eliminate a planned high-voltage line that would have passed through Gillespie County, which includes Fredericksburg.
The commissioners instead recommended reconstruction of circuits along an existing line, according to the transmission line developer, the Lower Colorado River Authority. An environmental group had opposed altering the region’s scenic views.
State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, has made public statements calling for a review of how much of the estimated 2,400 miles of transmission lines are necessary, citing the lower cost of natural gas and slackening wind development, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
“It’ll probably end up being less,” Watson said of the entire CREZ project. “And what we do end up with may cost us more per unit of electricity.”
He added that push-back against the project is “ultimately going to have an impact on economic development” and urged supporters of renewable energy to aggressively tout the economic development benefits of the wind industry.
“I think it’s key for renewable energy and people out in this area and the people who have seen the benefits of this economic development to start demanding that you and people putting that power out there be treated like a business,” Watson said, noting that the coal industry is more aggressive in touting economic development benefits than the renewable energy industry.
In the audience, Monty Montgomery, a consultant to the Development Corporation of Haskell, expressed concern that a planned CREZ line in his area may be congested if the CREZ project is shrunk. He explained that there is an effort to restart a power plant in the area – and create jobs – but the project needs to sell the electricity it generates to a broad market.
Another speaker, State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said events like Hurricane Katrina and the spike in gasoline prices in 2008 led more people worldwide to commit to alternative energy sources.
“I think Texas has a choice. We can fight it, or we can lead it,” Strama said.
But both Strama and Watson said the upcoming legislative session will be dominated by budget talk and redistricting.
State Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had been working on a draft of an energy plan, however.
“I have not read it. I don’t know what all it’s going to say,” Keffer said.
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