LITTLE ROCK – Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston said Thursday it will seek to avoid the taking of land via eminent domain as much as possible for a proposed $2 billion transmission-line project that would run through portions of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The company issued the statement in response to remarks made by members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation during a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday. The company also responded to a letter U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sent to the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, spoke to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans on Wednesday in support of the Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Access to Land, or APPROVAL, Act, which they are sponsoring.
The APPROVAL Act would require the Department of Energy to obtain approval from a governor, a state public service commission and any local tribal government before approving transmission projects and subsequent use of federal eminent domain. It also would require the projects to be placed on federal, rather than private, land whenever possible.
The bill is largely a response to opposition from landowners and county governments in western and central Arkansas and American Indian tribal governments in Oklahoma to Clean Line’s proposal to build a 700-plus-mile power line from Great Plains wind farms to the Tennessee Valley Authority, a project known as the Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
In a statement emailed to the Arkansas News Bureau on Thursday, Clean Line said it “takes property rights very seriously.”
“The Plains & Eastern Clean Line project would only utilize the condemnation process as a very last resort after all reasonable attempts at voluntary easement acquisition have been exhausted,” the company said. “Clean Line is committed to conducting easement negotiations in a manner that is fair to landowners and respectful of their private property rights and estimates that it will pay over $30 million to Arkansas landowners for easement and structure payments.
“This figure is well above the estimated fair market value of those easements.”
The APPROVAL Act “changes the rules in the middle of the game, after tens of millions of private dollars have been invested in good faith under the existing law, creating an environment unfriendly to private investment,” Clean Line said.
The company provided a list of 46 companies and organizations that oppose the bill.
Boozman told the subcommittee Wednesday that support for renewable-energy projects “has been set back in Arkansas by a sense that a federal agency may force a transmission project for which there is no clear demand or demonstrated need.”
State and local communities “must know that their voices will be heard,” he said.
Clean Line also responded to a letter in which Cotton told the U.S. Department of Energy he was concerned about “potential conflicts of interest” involved in Clean Line making payments to the agency for costs associated with the agency’s review of Clean Line’s application.
“There are many instances in which Congress has chosen to allow federal agencies to receive funds from private companies to enable the agencies to comprehensively review, assess and potentially to participate in a proposed project,” Clean Line said. “The reasons for this approach are to ensure that the costs fall on the applicant and private sector, and that projects providing substantial public benefits can move forward without their costs being borne by the taxpayer.”
The company said the funding agreement between it and the Department of Energy can be viewed at the websites of the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability, the department’s Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance and the Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
The project would bring hundreds of jobs, low-cost, clean energy and more than $5 million in annual revenues to Arkansas, Clean Line said.
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