The Public Utility Commission gave final approval Wednesday for a wind transmission line that will loop west and north of Amarillo at a cost of $190 million.
Commissioners voted 3-0 for the route builder and operator Sharyland Utilities preferred, said Terry Hadley, PUC spokesman.
The approval includes some latitude for landowners to negotiate small changes if there are savings attached, such as using single poles instead of towers.
That doesn’t satisfy all landowners on the route.
“I don’t know which is uglier,” said William Seewald, owner of the Seewald Ranch. “It’s kind of like which deck chair do you choose when the Titanic is going down. There’s no real functional difference. There will still be a huge swath of destroyed grassland and endangered creeks and streams.”
The 91-mile route is one of many that residents and business people vigorously opposed. About 900 people submitted negative comments about the northern route, citing a fragile environment, historically significant sites and aesthetic damage to the view. Meanwhile, a petition had 1,626 signatures of people opposed to putting the line just north of Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
There were also pleas from people not to run the wires between Amarillo and Canyon where there are existing residences and plans to develop shops and more homes.
Steve Gens lives between Washington and Osage streets in the area south of Amarillo where lines could have run.
“The line that would have run down Trammell (Road) would have been one quarter-mile from the back of my property,” he said. “But I think the decision was appropriate. It affects the fewest number of individuals.”
One developer said the decision had mixed results.
“Regarding the fact they chose not to affect all those habitable structures on the southern part of town – we’re pleased,” said Matt Griffith, vice president of Rockrose Development. “But I certainly don’t blame those saddled with the lines,” Griffith said. “It’s a bad deal. We’re not celebrating. It’s going to be a burden on somebody.”
Who the burden falls to could still be an open question.
“We’re examining all our options,” Seewald said. “It may not be over. The ruling they followed from the administrative law judge was profoundly, deeply and materially flawed.”
The route is about 50 percent longer and will cost $34 million more than the cheapest alternative, according to Sharyland’s application.
Ratepayers downstate, where the wind energy is headed, will see their bills rise to pay for the project, one of six that will interconnect in the Panhandle.
Sharyland is ready to move on.
“We are pleased with the unanimous vote by the Commission on selecting the northern route. While these decisions are difficult, we believe that given all of the factors involved, this is the best alternative for stakeholders,” Sharyland spokeswoman Jeanne Phillips said in a written statement. “We expect to begin construction in the spring of 2011, taking approximately l8 months to complete the project.”
Getting the project started could also benefit wind farm developers waiting for access to markets downstate, like several that are planning facilities in Oldham County.
“In the future, it’s good for the county and the Panhandle,” said Oldham County Judge Don Allred.
“Not everybody is going to be happy,” he said. “It has been controversial.”
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