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 the Panhandle’s Texas County 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 affect 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 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 financial questions about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line. They wondered why the project would move wind-generated power out of Oklahoma to Tennessee and how much this would cost 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 transports 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 turbines started up as a result of this project,” Summerson said.
Clean Line representative Phillip Teel vowed that the company would avoid imminent domain at all possible costs by paying landowners a compensation considered “fair and reasonable.” At the same time, he noted that Oklahoma would benefit financially by exporting its wind-driven power.
“We’re not taking anything away from Oklahoma,” he said. “We’re enabling Oklahoma to sell a resource they have in abundance.”
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission already has granted public utility status to Clean Line. The project will seek similar standing in Arkansas and Tennessee.
The public scoping meetings continue this week in Cushing and Enid. The scoping period ends by March 21.
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