LITTLE ROCK – The U.S. Department of Energy gave final approval Friday to a planned $2.5 billion energy transmission project across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, a move that Arkansas’ congressional delegation decried as “executive overreach.”
The project will involve building a 705-mile overhead transmission line that will deliver up 4,000 megawatts of wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to converter stations in Arkansas and Tennessee, with 500 megawatts staying in Arkansas. The energy will be distributed across several states in the region and will be enough to power more than 1.5 million homes, the Energy Department said in a statement.
“Moving remote and plentiful power to areas where electricity is in high demand is essential for building the grid of the future,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said. “Building modern transmission that delivers renewable energy to more homes and businesses will create jobs, cut carbon emissions, and enhance the reliability of our grid.”
The Energy Department issued a request for proposals for the project in 2010, and a proposal by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston was approved after a lengthy review process. The transmission line will be known as the Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
The department will partner with Clean Line on the project under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but all construction costs will be paid with private funds. It will be the first time the federal government has exercised its authority under the act.
Arkansas’ congressional delegation and some landowners have objected to the project, raising concerns that the government is bypassing state regulators and will take private property through eminent domain, among other things.
In a joint statement Friday, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, both R-Ark., and U.S. Reps. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and French Hill, R-Little Rock, said, “Today marks a new page in an era of unprecedented executive overreach as the Department of Energy seeks to usurp the will of Arkansans and form a partnership with a private company – the same private company previously denied rights to operate in our state by the Arkansas Public Service Commission.”
The delegation said that “reversing this decision through the passage of the APPROVAL Act remains a top priority,” referring to a bill by Boozman and Womack, the Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Access to Land Act.
The bill 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 Energy Department said Friday, “The federal government will only exercise eminent domain as a last resort – after the project has met significant milestones to prove its viability – and the process will provide every opportunity for the landowner to maximize the value of their land in a transparent and fair manner.”
Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly said in a statement, “The Department of Energy’s decision shows that great things are happening in America today. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is the largest clean-energy infrastructure project in the nation and will modernize the U.S. electric grid while bringing forth new investment, job creation, and more low-cost power for American consumers.”
Skelly said construction is expected to begin in 2017.
Glen Hooks, Arkansas director of the Sierra Club, called approval of the project “a giant step toward bringing clean energy to our state and region. Putting thousands of megawatts of clean wind energy onto the grid – including 500 megawatts for Arkansas – will undoubtedly lead to less dirty coal and gas being burned for electricity.”
Allison Millsaps, spokeswoman for the group Block Plains & Eastern Clean Line, said Friday, “While we are disappointed with the the decision, there are numerous legal, procedural, and meritorious questions, raised by multiple parties, we believe are still unanswered. We have long felt the fate of the Plains and Eastern project will not be decided by the DOE or Clean Line, but rather in a court of law.”
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