In a public meeting at the Bell Schoolhouse Fire Station just outside Starkville Thursday, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley urged residents to reach out to representatives from Southern Cross Transmission if they have questions about the company’s proposed wind energy transmission line.
“Let it not be said of you that you didn’t call on these people and that you didn’t file an objection,” Presley said at the meeting.
Southern Cross Transmission, a subsidiary of the San Francisco-based alternate energy company Pattern Energy Development, plans to set a 200-mile wind energy transmission line across Louisiana and Mississippi, a $700 million project in Mississippi alone. The line would end in West Vernon, Alabama, and several routes the company is considering pass through Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties. The planned project would be part of a 400-mile transmission line project that would link wind energy from Texas to customers in the Southeast.
However, most the attendees at the Bell Schoolhouse Fire Station meeting opposed the project. Dennis Daniels, who organized the meeting, said he has already been a victim of eminent domain once and does not want to go through the process again.
“Honestly I don’t have any questions for (representatives),” he said. “I just don’t want them to come through my property.”
He’s concerned that the power line will decrease property values, restrict further development on his land and be an eyesore.
“It bothers me most that it’s a private, for-profit company,” he said. “They’re going to use eminent domain to take our property rights away to give to a company in San Francisco to make millions of dollars off of each year.”
While eminent domain is not out of the question, Presley said he believes the company will do everything in its power to avoid having to use it. Southern Cross representatives have told him they have put in similar lines in other parts of the country without resorting to eminent domain.
Meeting with landowners individually
Presley said his office received a plethora of letters, emails and phone calls from property owners who received letters. In a meeting with company representatives, Presley said someone from the company has to meet with property owners one-on-one at the time and place of the landowner’s choosing.
In an interview with The Dispatch Thursday, Presley said a Southern Cross representative had already begun meeting with landowners individually. Presley also had the company designate a point of contact for landowners to call. Since then, his office has received fewer calls from concerned citizens.
In June, Southern Cross Transmission sent letters to landowners whose property is within 500 feet of one of the proposed routes and promised to hold meetings and answer questions from landowners. The company then hosted an open house for property owners, but many left that meeting with more questions than answers, Presley said.
Legally, Southern Cross Transmission doesn’t have to communicate with the public at all until it has decided on a route and filed a proposal with the Public Service Commission. But Presley wants to ensure that the company shows landowners the dignity and respect they deserve.
Southern Cross Transmission plans to settle on a route and file its proposal with the commission this fall. Once that happens, Presley said, citizens have 20 days to file an objection, which gives them legal rights in the case. Presley then plans to hold public meetings in each affected county where citizens can come and voice their concerns.
Presley has also said he will not approve the project unless the company can prove it has some benefit to Mississippi.
“I’m as much for clean air and clean energy as the next guy, but it’s got to be about more than renewable energy,” he said. “For us, that’s a plus, but there has to be other things.”
At the very least, Presley said, the project will create 300 temporary construction jobs, 25 permanent jobs and a $300 million taxable facility in Lowndes County where the transmission line will plug into a power grid in Caledonia. But Presley also hopes the project will allow Mississippians to plug into alternate forms of energy.
“At the end of the day, the ability to connect into wind energy, which does not cost anything as far as burning coal, burning natural gas, (is) obviously an energy source that could have a benefit to the state,” Presley said.
“That’s the benefit,” he added. “But also obviously if this electricity is low cost, I’m not going to be supporting trucking it through Mississippi to pump it to Atlanta, Georgia, and our people have cheap electricity ran over the top of their property and not being able to take advantage of it.”
Many landowners he has talked to have simply been concerned that the company is not hearing their concerns, Presley said. Others are adamantly opposed to the line anywhere near their property.
He requested landowners write down whatever questions they have, take those questions directly to the company and wait until they had met with Southern Cross representatives before deciding whether to oppose the project.
He added that anyone can file objections once the proposal has been submitted, but that their arguments must be fact-based.
“You can’t go wrong listening to people. … Southern Cross cannot go wrong listening to people,” Presley said. “It’s only in everybody’s interest– landowners, company, county, city, state–for everybody to have a chance to be heard. That’s what we’re trying to get done.”
Landowners can set up a meeting with company representative Lisa Dodds at 823-656-3216 or contact Joab Ortiz with questions at 816-368-8059.
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