The Arkansas Senate has passed a resolution opposing the construction of a power line across Arkansas to transmit wind-generated electricity from Oklahoma to Tennessee.
The Senate passed the resolution on Wednesday, calling on the U.S. Department of Energy to reject an application by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston to partner with the agency on building the power transmission line or to require that it minimize the effects of the line on the state by burying it where possible.
The resolution calls for the secretary of the Senate to provide copies to the federal Energy Department, President Barack Obama, the Arkansas Public Service Commission, the Arkansas congressional delegation and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, stated that lifelong landowners may have to grant easements on their property for the transmission line right of way.
Irvin did not respond to an email Friday seeking comment on the resolution. Part of her Senate district is in Cleburne and Van Buren counties, two of 12 Arkansas counties through which Clean Line proposes to run the power line.
If built, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission line would transmit up to 3,500 megawatts of high-voltage, direct current electricity from a proposed wind farm in western Oklahoma through Arkansas to western Tennessee, where it would deliver the power to the Tennessee Valley Authority for distribution in the South and Southeast.
The line would go through an Arkansas portion of the Mississippi Flyway, a major waterfowl migration route that provides economic benefit to the state, the resolution stated.
Opponents have said in public hearings that the line would deprive landowners of the use of their property, reduce property values, hurt tourism, spoil the state’s natural beauty, interfere with waterfowl migration routes and pose possible health risks.
Clean Line issued a statement after the Arkansas Senate passed the resolution. It said, in part: “Clean Line recognizes that all major public infrastructure projects may raise concerns about potential negative impacts. We will continue to work with Senator Irvin, other state legislators and the citizens of Arkansas to discuss concerns brought forth in the resolution and follow the appropriate processes to develop and construct the Plains & Eastern Clean Line responsibly.”
Clean Line applied to the Arkansas Public Service Commission to become a public utility in 2010 to expedite construction of the transmission line across the state. As a utility in Arkansas, Clean Line would have had the power of eminent domain to acquire land for the line easement.
The commission rejected the request in January 2011 because the company didn’t plan to serve Arkansas customers.
Clean Line has since proposed to build a converter station near Russellville that would deliver 500 megawatts of power from the line to 160,000 homes in Arkansas. Clean Line officials have said they don’t plan to seek public utility status from Arkansas again.
Instead, the company has applied to the federal Energy Department to participate in the project under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. If it does, Clean Line would obtain the power of eminent domain for easement acquisition through the Energy Department.
U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have introduced federal legislation, called the Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Access to Lands Act, or the APPROVAL Act. If passed, it would require the federal government to get approval from a state’s governor and its public service commission before exercising federal eminent domain to acquire land for power transmission projects.
The state House and Senate passed without dissent earlier this month House Bill 1592, which clarifies requirements for obtaining from the Public Service Commission a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which confers public utility status.
HB1592 does not mention Clean Line, and one of its sponsors, state Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas, R-Alma, said legislators didn’t have the project specifically in mind when drawing up the bill. But a company wanting public utility status merely to cross the state with a transmission line suggested that there was a need to clarify the requirements, she said.
She said the bill’s intent was to ensure that a company designated as a public utility serves the people of Arkansas.
“We have to be careful not to let someone who just wants to cross the state and not deliver any electricity,” she said.
The bill’s main sponsor, state Rep. Rick Beck, R-Center Ridge, said the legislation allows the Public Service Commission to determine whether to give or withhold the power of eminent domain to a company in granting it public utility status.
“It sets guidelines for Arkansas to benefit from these projects,” he said. “If they do not benefit Arkansas, I don’t see why we would give them the power of eminent domain.”
Beck said the prospect of landowners having to deal with a power transmission company like Clean Line wanting to buy easements prompted Beck to sponsor HB1098, which establishes a landowner bill of rights.
Part of Beck’s district covers Conway County, through which the proposed transmission line would run. He said many residents own small plots of land for which legal expenses to challenge an unfairly low bid could be burdensome and exceed the amount of compensation being offered.
He said the bill would press companies acquiring easements to pay a fair market price and help landowners contesting offers deal with the expense of challenging unfairly low offers.
HB1098 proposes, among other things, that if a landowner takes a company to court to contest an easement payment offer and the ultimate payment exceeds the company’s initial offer by 20 percent, the property owner would be entitled to an award of the cost of mounting the challenge.
The House initially passed HB1098 on Tuesday 95-2. The Senate passed it Friday 34-0 but amended it, sending it back to the House, where Beck said it will be voted on again early next week. He anticipated no problem with its passage.
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