FORT SMITH – A small sign reading “No eminent domain for private gain” that was distributed at a public hearing reflected the theme among the people who commented on a proposed electric-power transmission line.
About 200 residents of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma attended the U.S. Department of Energy’s public hearing Wednesday. The hearing, one of six in the state, was conducted to gather public comment on a proposed high-voltage, direct-current, wind-generated power transmission line that would be strung across Arkansas to deliver power from wind farms in western Oklahoma and northern Texas to Tennessee.
Most of the people who offered comments during the presentation on Wednesday said they opposed the proposed project and the federal government’s participation in it.
If the government chooses to participate, it would give Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners the power of eminent domain to acquire the necessary right of way for the line, which would run through 12 counties in northern Arkansas.
Members of the audience jumped to their feet and cheered when Haley Hall of Rudy said federal Energy Department officials should be ashamed for considering any involvement in helping a private company take Arkansans’ private land.
“This project is about one thing, and that’s greed,” she said. “They don’t see our green trees, our land, our lives that are so important to us. They see a different kind of green, and that’s money.”
Speakers told Energy Department’s representative at the hearing, Jane Summerson, that they objected to the proposed power line because, among other things, it would render their property useless and worthless, spoil their view of the state’s natural beauty, pass over or close to historic and cultural sites and possibly cause health problems.
Elected officials from Crawford County, the cities of Mulberry and Cedarville in that county, and Sequoyah County, Okla., said their governing bodies passed measures opposing the Energy Department’s participation in the project.
“I’m here to tell DOE we are 100 percent against this project in Crawford County,” Crawford County Judge John Hall said to the cheering of the crowd.
Roy McCann, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, spoke in favor of the project. He said the need in Arkansas and Oklahoma for more line capacity to transmit power from renewable sources, such as wind, will increase over time.
Arkansas must be ready to accommodate that increase in demand for transmission capacity, he said.
The crowd’s reaction to his comments, and those of other project supporters was to hold up their green signs.
Former Fort Smith City Director Philip Merry also spoke in favor of the project as a member of Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, a trade organization of companies and organizations dedicated to helping Arkansas create more jobs in the emerging field of renewable energy.
He said the transmission line would represent a half-billion-dollar investment in the state, will generate jobs and provide 500 megawatts of low-cost, clean energy to Arkansas electric customers.
As part of the transmission line project, Clean Line Energy Partners is proposing to build a converter station near Russellville that would convert 500 megawatts of direct current into alternating current for consumption in Arkansas.
Clean Line representative Joe Rivers said before Wednesday’s public hearing that the Russellville area was chosen because of the existing 500-megawatt power line associated with the Arkansas Nuclear One plant on Lake Dardanelle. That line would serve as the point of transfer from the wind-power transmission line to the Arkansas electricity grid, he said.
The Arkansas Wildlife Federation also went on the record last month as supporting the project as an opportunity to lower the state’s dependence on nonrenewable coal and other fossil fuels.
Summerson said the Clean Line line would transmit wind power generated in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Now, she said, wind development in that area is “maxed out.”
But if the Clean Line project is approved, she said, the Energy Department believes that the construction of the line would open up large markets for the wind power and stimulate development of more wind farms in that area.
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