Some left satisfied; some left resigned; and some left gravely concerned.
It’s hard to route a power line across 360 miles of Oklahoma without crossing someone. That’s why teams with American Electric Power and its subsidiary Public Service Company of Oklahoma are holding open house meetings in the Tulsa area this week. The first was Monday evening at the Glenpool Conference Center. More than 400 landowners along potential power line routes were invited. Others with interest in the line were welcome to attend, as well.
The Wind Catcher Energy Connection project would be the largest power line Oklahoma has seen. It would be connected to a massive 800-turbine wind farm to be located between Guymon and Boise City in the Panhandle in order to take wind power to 1.1 million customers of PSO and its sister utility Southwestern Electric Power Co.
The company held 11 open house meetings along proposed routes across the state in the fall and posted a virtual open house on its website to collect comments and concerns.
As planners discovered various issues along those routes, they turned to secondary, tertiary and even more possible routes either as new plans or as options to have ready just in case preferred routes don’t work out in time to meet a construction deadline of Jan. 1, 2020, when federal incentives run out.
A new round of meetings is underway now in locations from Woodward to Pawnee to Glenpool.
In the meantime, PSO awaits word from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as it seeks preapproval to recover its $1.36 billion in costs associated with the $4.5 billion wind farm and electric transmission project.
But as Dick Clark, who lives south of Skiatook Lake, put it, for most people at the open house Monday, “it’s all about how will it impact the place where I live.”
That’s what the open house is all about, said PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford. People meet a guide at the door to the meeting room, split into groups from two to five and are guided through a series of displays that explain the entire project. They then split up to meet siting team members with large aerial maps spread out on tables, and they then write comments if they wish.
“Here with the maps is where people really can look in detail at the line and where it is in relation to their property, and that’s where they really learn a lot,” he said. “And that’s what we need, too. We want to hear their concerns and learn the details they know about these areas, as well.”
People can appreciate the entire project, the economics of tax income and job creation and supporting renewable energy, but that goes out the window when a tall power line is going to cross out your favorite wilderness view or a right of way is going to be bulldozed across your property, Clark said.
While Lawrence Charboneau and his wife, Joan Charboneau, looked over aerial-view maps and helped a member of the AEP siting team make notes directly on the maps, a nearby neighbor, Scott Benson, learned more about the route and grew more and more troubled.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m really concerned. This would destroy my property value. It would destroy the reasons we like living here.”
A power line already crosses his 40 acres, but the proposed line would be much taller with a 200-foot right of way – twice the width of the existing line’s – and the two lines would crisscross in the middle of his land.
He’s been clearing brush and creating good access and bought materials to build a cabin on his wooded lot. An escape.
“I told my wife, ‘When I retire, my daughter can have the house and we can just live back there away from everything,’ ” he said. “Now that would all just be wiped out.”
Joan Charboneau said she felt for her neighbor but that on their own property, where they’ve lived for 50 years, it was less of an issue.
“We have more land, so it’s not as big a problem,” she said. “We’ve been through this before years ago.”
Clark said he was, by some accident, essentially representing a group of landowners in his area who simply want to know more about what is going on, why it is happening and what, precisely, it would do to their viewscape.
Clark, like many he is representing, were not directly invited to the meeting because the proposed line would not cross their properties, but he said he’s in a neighborhood where some get upset every time there is yet another new house being built in the area.
“And now there’s going to be a new power line?” he said.
He learned what he needed to know at the open house by going over maps with Tim Gaul, AEP’s director of transmission siting, and having an informal talk with PSO Vice President of External Affairs John Harper.
Harper offered to go to the area and speak with Clark’s group if he wanted to line something up.
“I feel so much better now that I’ve heard this,” Clark said. “It’s that anxiety of not really knowing, and now that I know more, I feel better.”