Woodward, Okla. – Earlier this week, the 3-member Arkansas Public Service Commission denied Plains and Eastern Clean Line’s request to be considered a public utility in that state.
However, the Houston-based wind energy company said it plans to continue to work with the Arkansas commission as it moves toward construction of 2 high voltage transmission lines that would span Oklahoma and Arkansas, to carry electricity from a Guymon area wind farm to southeastern U.S. energy markets.
Clean Line Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado said the Arkansas decision has not affected its bid to become a public utility in Oklahoma.
In fact, a “full-blown hearing” on that bid is set for Jan. 19 through Jan. 21 before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s (OCC) Administrative Law Judge Jacqueline T. Miller, according to Matt Skinner, spokesman for OCC.
However, Skinner said the agency had no comment on the Arkansas decision.
THE ARKANSAS DECISION
Current plans for the Clean Line transmission lines would not allow either Oklahoma or Arkansas to tap directly into the proposed $3.5-billion project as it goes through their states.
According to legal documents from the Arkansas Public Service Commission, this was a major factor influencing its decision to deny “public convenience” status to Clean Line.
“ … (T)he Commission’s decision is based on the fact it cannot grant public utility status to Clean Line based on the information about its current business plan and present lack of plans to serve customers in Arkansas,” the document reads. “Without pre-judging any future plans Clean Line may have or may bring before the Commission, the Commission denies Clean Line’s request” for issuance of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
Arkansas Public Service Commission Chair Collette D. Honorable and Commissioner Olan W. Reeves signed off on the ruling (the third seat is currently vacant).
Honorable did not return a call seeking additional comment by press time.
Hurtado said the Arkansas commission’s decision helps give Clean Line a sense of direction as to what the company needs to do next.
“(The public service commission) was very supportive of our work and testimony,” Hurtado said. “We’re going to continue to work with them.
“We know that we’re trying to break the mold on the delivery of electricity, and that’s a hard thing to do,” he said.
WHY OKLAHOMANS ARE CONCERNED
The Arkansas Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is similar to what Clean Line desires in Oklahoma.
However, several entities including the citizen group Southern Great Plains Property Rights Coalition have objected to Clean Line’s request.
The property rights group is concerned about Clean Line being allowed to employ eminent domain, which is granted to public utilities in Oklahoma, to acquire right-of-way.
The coalition emphasizes it isn’t against wind energy development – in fact, it says it supports it – but it seeks to have landowners treated fairly by the company, particularly in terms of payment of royalties.
However, Hurtado has said that Clean Line developed a “Landowners’ Bill of Rights” to help accomodate the property owners. This “Bill of Rights” was submitted along with other documents from Clean Line in its public utility proposal to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
In addition, he said that Clean Line has been working to cooperate with the Southern Plains coalition and other Oklahoma groups, even more so than it worked with groups in Arkansas.
“We’ve had a lot more interaction with Oklahoma,” he said.
In fact, a proposed settlement between the company and several objecting groups remains under discussion, which will be covered in the administrative law judge’s hearing later this month, officials said.
“We’re still working on the language in the agreement,” said Sue Selman of the Southern Great Plains Property Rights Coalition.
But Selman pointed out that any agreement reached by the parties will be moot if the OCC denies Clean Line’s request.
CLEAN LINE KEEPING POSITIVE OUTLOOK
Hurtado said Clean Line is looking forward to the discussion that will occur with the administrative law judge later this month and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission meeting that will then follow to review the judge’s findings.
“It’s important for the Oklahoma Corporation Commmission to hear what the project is about,” he said. “We’re encouraged by the number of letters and calls the commissioners have received in support.”
However, should the OCC also turn down Clean Line’s bid to become a public utility, Hurtado said, “We will work hard to address any issues that may be raised and continue to move the project along.
“We are hopeful that the OCC won’t be influenced by short-term decisions in Arkansas,” Hurtado added.
However, if the application is approved by the OCC, Clean Line believes Oklahoma’s leadership on the matter will enhance efforts as the company attempts to move the project forward in Arkansas, he said.
Hurtado said that wind farms depend on transmission lines, like Clean Line is attempting to build in the 2 states.
“Without new transmission (lines), very few new wind farms will be built,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
In a related matter, the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool filed with the OCC on Tuesday to request permission to intervene in the case, even though submission of the motion is past the stated intervention period. The Southwest Power Pool is concerned about maintaining reliability of its system as Clean Line’s transmission system would interconnect with the power pool’s system.