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Energy-efficient power lines near completion

Construction of a contentious electricity transmission line through Lampasas, Coryell and Bell counties is scheduled for completion in December.

The Oncor line will carry more than 300 kilovolts of power, and two projects to build it started last October and January, said Terry Hadley, spokesman of the Texas Public Utility Commission.

The Killeen-area portion of the line project includes of moving dirt to place several large steel towers and transmission wires, said Karl Green, Killeen area manager for Oncor. With about 28 miles of line, Hadley said the project will cost an estimated $70 million.

This portion of the line will connect the future Newton switching station outside of Kempner to the Killeen Featherline switching station next to the city’s police department by cutting through eastern Lampasas County, the southern tip of Coryell County and around south Killeen, according to Oncor’s website.

A second portion of the project will run from the Newton switching station, by cutting through the northern portions of Lampasas County, to the Brown switching station west of Brookesmith in Brown County, according Oncor’s website.

Hadley said the second project will stretch more than 96 miles and has an estimated cost of $164 million.

Three years ago, routes for the new transmission line were contested by area residents, and the state utility agency conducted a number of hearings to address their concerns.

“These cases were not handled lightly at all,” said Hadley noting it was the state agency’s job to determine a path that would not heavily impact the area and keep construction costs down. “(The routes and cases) went through extensive review and full evidentiary proceeding,” he said. “I think it was a lengthy process but certainly a fair and reasonable outcome.”

After a final route was decided, it was determined that the transmission line project would have an impact on about 65 property owners between the Newton and Killeen switching stations and 195 landowners from the Brown and Newton switching stations.

“We purchased an easement, which gives us the ability to cross the property lines,” said Catherine Cuellar, communication manager for Oncor, talking about the effect on local residents. “In some of these that may be an aerial easement.”

An aerial easement is for properties where the lines cross land, but there is not a standing structure on the property.

The easement will allow Oncor to access the property when work needs to be done on the wires, said Cuellar.

She added that there was “a very high involvement” of public participants deciding this route and ultimately the decision from the utility commission on where to locate this electrical infrastructure system.

“We are trying to be very sensitive to (residents) and a good neighbor,” said Cueller about the construction and pre-construction process.

The transmission line project is part of the state Legislature’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zones program. It is expected to relieve heavy loads from the current transmission lines and bring renewable and greener wind energy generated in West Texas to more metropolitan areas, such as Killeen and Austin.

Cuellar said more than 1,000 miles of transmission lines make up the program with a cost of about $2 billion. “That will be spread across more than a dozen projects (by multiple companies), and we won’t know the total cost until those line are in service.

“The cost of building these lines will be overwhelmed by the saving from elevating grid congestion,” said Cuellar.