The Public Utility Commission of Texas ordered Oncor on Thursday to take a northern route around Ray Roberts Lake as it builds a 345-kilovolt power line from Krum to Anna.
The order came after more than 700 intervenors filed tens of thousands of pages of documents, provided four days of testimony to a panel of state judges, paid millions in legal fees for help with the nine-month battle and packed several rooms on the seventh and eighth floors of the William B. Travis Building in Austin last week to make their final, direct pleas to commissioners.
Bolivar-area resident Scott Schram drove to the capital for the third time Thursday morning. He skipped all but the last five minutes of the commissioners’ short deliberation over the finer details of the route in order to make a last-minute filing.
Because the line will go through his neighborhood along Clear Creek north of FM455, he and his neighbors have asked for monopoles, which cost more to build but require less land. But the full weight of the decision hadn’t sunk in, he said.
“Right now I’m kind of in limbo,” Schram said.
He made the filing in response to a memo written by Commissioner Kenneth W. Anderson Jr., who lives in Dallas County, on the eve of Thursday’s deliberations and vote. Anderson’s memo recommended that the PUC adopt the proposal made by a two-judge panel for Route 42, which is what the commission finally decided upon.
Anderson used the memo to guide the deliberations Thursday morning, a meeting that was broadcast live on the Internet. He told the crowd and other commissioners that he was not compelled by arguments to preserve Denton’s Greenbelt Corridor. Instead, he said, Route 42 was the best choice among the 96 possible routes because it affected the fewest homes.
Cooke County Judge John Roane also traveled to Austin to hear the deliberations and said that while the decision disappointed county leaders, it was hard to argue with the rationale of protecting as many homes as possible.
In addition to following the judges’ recommendation, the commissioners agreed that Oncor should work with Brazos Electric Cooperative on sharing an easement in southern Cooke County.
If facilities for the two utilities could be coordinated, landowner Robert Fowler offered to donate some of the right of way, in part to protect a local landmark, Terrapin Hill, and to reduce the impact on his farmland. Brenda Brown, speaking for her mother, Fowler’s neighbor, asked that the coordination continue along their land. Her mother’s land is crossed by about a mile of power lines owned by Brazos Electric.
Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar said the request was uncommon but the company is always willing to work with landowners.
“We’ll try to make that work,” Cuellar said.
Officials with Brazos Electric Cooperative did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Once the order is signed, Oncor will assign a right-of-way agent to each person whose land will be crossed, Cuellar said.
The first order of business will be to secure permission to survey the land along the route. Up to this point, the company has been able to work only with aerial photographs and public records to make preliminary plans.
“That will go a long way to more precisely determine where the lines can be located,” Cuellar said.
Then, negotiations will begin between Oncor and landowners to purchase the easements. The PUC gave the company latitude to work with landowners to make adjustments to where the line will go.
The commissioners asked specifically about accommodations the company can make for Jeffrey and Cynthia Lichtman, who have a radio astronomy business that they run from their home in far west Sanger.
The couple has said the electromagnetic field of the power lines is likely to cause significant interference and ruin their livelihood.
Oncor officials referred to the testimony provided by its engineers, who said interference was unlikely.
According to Jill Alvarez, who filed a rebuttal in early December, radio telescopes operate at high to very high frequencies, while the transmission lines operate at 60 hertz.
“Oncor’s experience is that complaints of disruptive noise from transmission lines during fair weather are rare,” Alvarez wrote.
In both Alvarez’s testimony and in front of the commissioners Thursday, the company pledged to work with the couple if the line does result in interference and to address the problem at no cost to them.
The Lichtmans did not return a call for comment Thursday.
County Commissioner Hugh Coleman said he thought it was unfortunate that the project had to come into Denton County at all. He said he tried to alert people when the Riley-to-Krum segment was announced, but residents showed little interest.
“It’s like a chess game where you have to be thinking two or three moves ahead,” Coleman said.
However, he said he would be monitoring the project in the coming months.
Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, who encouraged the PUC to route the power line to the north, said in a prepared statement that he thought the decision was the best for Denton County and that he, too, would be watching out for those affected by the decision.
“I will continue to work with the landowners and stakeholders of that area to ensure that their rights are preserved and that this process continues to transition smoothly,” Parker wrote.
The Greenbelt Alliance of Denton County released a statement shortly after the vote, saying that, while sensitive to those on the northern route, it was pleased that the community asset was preserved.
Richard Rogers, whose land is adjacent to the Greenbelt, said he believes state officials responded to homeowners’ concerns.
“I’m grateful for the process, and to be involved and have an impact,” Rogers said.
Oncor won’t know the final cost of construction until after all the easements are acquired, Cuellar said. However, the company plans to be finished building the line by 2013.
The Krum-to-Anna line is Oncor’s last segment of a statewide power project known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones. The $5 billion upgrade to the state’s power grid was ordered by the Texas Legislature, ostensibly to bring in more wind power from West Texas and the Panhandle.
The Krum-to-Anna line was Oncor’s most contested segment, and the most hotly contested CREZ segment. While a CREZ segment in the Hill Country drew more than 1,000 intervenors, the Krum-to-Anna segment drew a far greater proportion of intervenors among landowners who potentially would have been affected by the final route.
On the Lower Colorado River Authority’s CREZ segment, one Hill Country landowner intervened for about every five affected; in North Texas, one landowner intervened for about every 2 1/2 affected.
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