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Public Utility Commission rules on placement of transmission lines through Texas Hill Country  

Credit:  Eileen Pace – Texas Public Radio, www.tpr.org ~~

The Texas Public Utility Commission has unanimously settled on a route for transmission lines to carry wind power through the Texas Hill Country. Texas Public Radio’s Eileen Pace reports.

January 24, 2011 · The emotional issue brought more than 1,100 people to the table over the past two years to find an amicable solution for transmitting power from West Texas wind farms to San Antonio and other cities.

Standing between the beginning of the route near El Dorado, Texas and the PUC’s final decision were hundreds of acres of pristine Hill Country ranchland that have supported hosts of wildlife through generations of Texas landowners.

Bill Neiman is president of Clearview Alliance, an organization formed to fight the indiscriminate placement of the power lines.

“Scenic vistas, it’s approximately 150 miles, 130 to 150 miles of link, depending on which route is used,” Neiman said. “There were 60 routes proposed, and up to 20,000 different combinations within those routes. So, it is an extremely complex bucket of noodles.”

It was so complicated that Gillespie County hired an attorney to represent its interests in the discussion.

County Judge Mark Stroeher said, “The last thing that they were really considering was that the PUC commissioners take that route that the PUC staff had came up with recently which would have deviated off of I-10 and gone north of Kerrville through the Tierra Linda Ranch subdivision.”

“Gillespie County and the City of Fredericksburg both had passed a resolution suggesting that the only route they could support through Gillespie County would be one that followed the I-10 corridor,” said attorney Catherine Webking.

Webking watched the discussion move from an initial series of public workshops, then formal hearings, to a recommendation from an administrative law judge, and finally, on January 20, to the commissioners’ unanimous vote.

“You know, their position has been that the highway provides a compatible corridor, and it’s already a disturbed area, and it makes more sense to put it there than through some pristine portion of the Hill Country,” Webking said.

Stroeher said, “I think it was going to go over or through at least two or three of the homes, but a number of others would be affected, certainly within the 500 feet. And, most of the properties in the subdivision would be able to see those towers from no matter where they were in the subdivision. It would have really been a tremendous scar going through that subdivision.”

The final route settled on by the PUC places the towers and power lines along a modification of a route called “MK-63.” It is mainly along I-10, but it does divert through ranchland on the northwest corner.

Neiman said, “It goes from Comfort to about 10 miles west of Junction, and then it gets off on Ranch Road 1674. And, it’s one of those beautiful Hill Country back roads. The line’s going to follow that for about 10 miles, and then it’ll turn west and go out across the country, diagonally across the ranches, until it gets to the substation at McCaney D, up above El Dorado.”

Concerns included lattice-type versus monopole tower construction, fragmentation of ranches that have been in the same families for many generations, destruction of natural habitat, and avoidance of the Junction airport, which Neiman said was solved by an eleventh hour modification that moves the route a short distance away from I-10..

“The only option was about a 15-mile loop around Junction up into the central hills of the Hill Country into known Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. So, that area got spared, and those impacts were distinctly mitigated by this modification that keeps it closer to the interstate as it traverses through the Junction area,” Neiman said.

Nieman’s sentiments echoed those of many interveners. With a couple of exceptions, they said the process worked.

“We believe that, as well as Texas Parks and Wildlife does, that this is a travesty for the Hill Country, no matter where you put a transmission line of this scale. But it’s necessary if we’re going to have green energy brought to the cities, and if that’s the case, the most industrial place that the Hill Country has to offer is the corridor along Interstate 10,” Neiman said.

Webking said, “These commissioners have looked at a lot of these lines. They really do take this very seriously, and they really do delve into the evidence and look at it hard. And, it was clear from the discussions that they had done a lot of analysis independently.”

Drivers likely will start seeing the towers along I-10 west of Comfort by summer. Wind power eventually will be fed into the grid serving San Antonio.

Source:  Eileen Pace – Texas Public Radio, www.tpr.org

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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