The pace of wind energy transmission approvals for the Panhandle is building from a breeze to a gale with another route finalized and the last two moving along.
The Public Utility Commission approved a line route from near Lefors to the Panhandle area on Friday that could cost $62 million for about 40 miles of high-voltage transmission. That will put the cost of the three segments Cross Texas is building at more than $200 million, according to the company.
It took almost seven months to get a final order signed and filed from the time Cross Texas filed multiple proposed routes.
Despite a nationwide slowdown in wind energy construction, there is still interest in harnessing Panhandle wind energy and tapping into transmission lines that will take it downstate.
“There’s a handful of people involved in studies to do that and others at different phases who have expressed interest,” said Cameron Fredkin, director of project development for the company.
The wind business is growing in the Panhandle in anticipation of completion of the transmission lines and a hoped-for upturn in the industry in general. New companies Alstom Power, set to manufacture turbines, and Zarges Aluminum Systems, which plans to build internal components for wind towers, expect to move into new Amarillo facilities soon and are now advertising for upper-level employees.
The latest route will run from about two miles west-southwest of Lefors in Gray County to about three miles north of Interstate 40 one mile east of state Highway 207 in Carson County. It is about 32 miles in a straight line between the end points, according to the final order.
The order is based on a settlement agreement among interested parties, including Cross Texas and landowners. It calls for a right of way reduced to 160 feet from 175 feet in the original proposal. Also, Cross Texas will use a hybrid approach to tower usage, opting for monopoles for straight runs and lattice towers for corners.
Construction of the line just approved should begin in 2012 and wrap up by spring 2013, according to a news release from the company. Initial activity will include engineering and easement negotiations later this month.
Much the same work is ongoing on Cross Texas lines from the Childress area to near Lefors and from Silverton to Childress.
“We’re still in preconstruction,” Fredkin said. “We’re finalizing engineering, doing boundary surveys, archaeological surveys, right of way easement acquisition. Everything is moving along pretty well.”
Cross Texas is also in talks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife on how to reduce the effect of the transmission lines on wildlife during and after construction.
“We’ve had some discussions, but nothing is really finalized for all our segments,” Fredkin said. “We’re looking at the different impacts we might have and how we can work together.”
The Public Utility Commission agenda lists consideration of final approval on Friday of another line route to be built by Sharyland Utilities from the Hereford area to near Nazareth and ending around Silverton. That route is also the product of negotiations of interested parties, according to an agreement filed with the agency.
Overall construction could cost $133 million for 46 miles of lines and a substation near Nazareth.
An administrative law judge in Austin hearing the case for yet another line from Silverton to Panhandle filed a proposal Tuesday that the commission will consider April 6. That line would be about 68 miles long and cost $131 million.
The rub is Judge Hunter Burkhalter doesn’t think an extra charge of $11 million on top of that is worth the questionable benefit of using monopoles to protect scenic vistas, according to the proposal. He argues the single poles will be 20 feet taller than lattice towers and require more structures because the spans between supports have to be shorter, meaning they could be more of an eyesore.
The commission is supposed to keep the cost to utility customers who would buy the power downstate in mind when designating a route and its construction.
Briscoe County landowners had requested monopoles as the lines cross the Palo Duro Canyon and run along state Highway 207, designated by the state as a scenic route. They also wanted single poles as the line approached the substation south of Silverton.
Landowners can file objections and make their case in April.
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