The Oklahoma Corporation Commission will consider on Monday whether or not to allow Public Service Co. to recover costs related to its Wind Catcher Energy Connection plans.
If approved, the utility would be allowed to recover $1.36 billion in costs to buy 30 percent of the 2,000 megawatt Wind Catcher farm being built in Oklahoma’s Panhandle.
Along with co-owning the generating facility with its American Electric Power sister company, Southwestern Electric Power, the two also propose building and operating a 360-mile line that would carry electricity from the farm into the grids they operate that distribute power to their customers.
Utility regulators in Arkansas and Louisiana have approved Southwestern’s plans for the project, while Texas regulators are considering it. The project’s total cost for both utilities is $4.5 billion.
An administrative law judge who considered PSO’s proposal recommends the commission deny the utility’s request to be granted preapproval to recover its costs.
The judge recommends denial because the utility did not seek competitive construction bids for the farm and because that work had started before PSO filed its request.
While PSO estimates its 545,000 customers would see a rate increase of about $78 million in 2021, it also maintains that lower energy costs and connected federal wind production tax credits would offset that increase.
The company also states it believes its ratepayers will benefit during the project’s life because of affordability forecasts for wind energy.
And the utility’s pending agreement proposes additional safeguards it believes would save customers money throughout the project’s expected life.
It proposes capping costs to ratepayers for the project at 103 percent, guarantees the project would qualify for 100 percent of federal renewable energy production tax credits available when the farm’s construction started in 2016, guarantees average net power generation and proposes requiring PSO to review the project’s benefits to ratepayers after 10 years.
The Oklahoma Attorney General and the commission’s Public Utility Division continue to oppose PSO’s proposal.
Numerous parties support PSO’s settlement proposal.
However, new opposition being mounted by the city of Bixby and by residents who potentially could be impacted by the eastern end of the proposed power line recently surfaced.
An attorney representing both told commissioners Thursday his clients are concerned both about the process the utility uses to locate and build lines and about this line’s potential health impacts.
Commissioners debated but didn’t decide whether to allow those parties to become involved, discussing whether the commission has authority to be involved in a power line siting process and whether or not these new parties might seek to have the entire case be reconsidered.
In response to questions asked by Commissioner Bob Anthony, an attorney representing the agency’s Public Utility Division told commissioners the agency does not have authority to oversee the siting process a utility uses to build a line.
State law grants utilities the authority to seek the land they need for such projects through district courts using eminent domain.
The attorney also told commissioners there are no existing standards that have been put forward either by the federal government or Oklahoma that can be used to evaluate potential adverse health impacts from high-voltage power lines.
Commission Chairman Dana Murphy, however, said she felt the commission can consider line siting plans in the context of how those plans impact project costs. And Commissioner Todd Hiett said he wouldn’t object to allowing new parties into the case, provided they won’t seek a reconsideration of the case in its entirety.
The commission will consider PSO’s proposal and whether or not to grant standing to the new parties at a 1:30 p.m. meeting.
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