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Public focuses on Clean Line transmission project at Muskogee meeting

MUSKOGEE – A proposed 700-mile project to transmit wind power from Oklahoma to Tennessee may seem like a win-win for clean energy, but it’s not yet crystal clear for many Oklahomans who will be directly affected by the Plains and Eastern Clean Line.

The U.S. Department of Energy guided a public scoping meeting Monday night bringing potential stakeholders together with Clean Line officials.

The meeting, focused on environmental impacts of the Plains and Eastern project, was one of six scheduled statewide through this week.

The $2 billion construction will start in Texas County, Oklahoma and extend a high-voltage, direct-current line across Oklahoma and Arkansas to a Tennessee Valley Authority substation. Clean Line officials hope to complete the transmission line by late 2015 or early 2016.

In the meantime, the network of proposed routes will cross thousands of properties, public lands, rivers and may impact species such as the least tern and the American burying beetle. Many of those attending Monday’s scoping meeting seem to worry more about visual impacts, health concerns and financial arrangements.

“The worst case scenario would be it going on the front or back edge of our property,” Okmulgee County resident Jim Wood said outside the meeting, citing the visual concerns and possible impact on resale value of his land. “We might want to sell it and move back into town someday.”

Clean Line’s potential stakeholders looked at giant maps and offered insights on little-known landmarks.

“They may show us where an Indian mound is,” Jane Summerson, who handled the scoping meeting for the Energy Department, said prior to the meeting at the Muskogee Civic Center. “These are things we wouldn’t know otherwise.”

Some residents brought up various financial questions about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line.

They wondered why the project would move wind-generated power out of Oklahoma all the way to Tennessee and how much this process would cost the taxpayers.

Summerson noted that Clean Line was paying for the entire project, including the public scoping process. She pointed out that the Houston-based company cannot influence the environmental impact findings, which are due to be drafted into a report later this year.

Clean Line would buy power from Oklahoma wind farms, moving it much like a pipeline firm transport oil or gas, officials said. Those landowners would receive royalties, while tax revenues and economic development also would be generated.

“We expect that 1,500 to 2,000 new wind turnbines started up as a result of this project,” Summerson told the crowd.