Power Line In Ozarks Prompts Firestorm

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 12:00 am  

Swepco was ordered earlier this month to drop three alternative routes — Nos. 62, 86 and 91 — from its request. That leaves preferred route No. 33 and alternates Nos. 108 and 109 on the table. Opponents fear the lines could threaten attractions like Thorncrown Chapel (inset.) (Photo by BMcD, ESRI/Arkansas Parks & Tourism)

It took two days to get through the public comments in Eureka Springs, and parties interested in speaking had to register at least an hour in advance. Sometimes the wait was longer for the more than 400 who voiced an opinion.

While citizens of Benton and Carroll counties will see the power lines from their homes and workplaces, many more people will feel the impact in their homes and workplaces.

As the population has grown in northwest Arkansas, so too have electricity needs. Reviews of the current power system and projections for area growth have been ongoing since about 2005.

Mapping the proposed routes has not been an easy or quick process, Swepco’s Main said. Factors taken into consideration in developing routes are cost, health and safety concerns, engineering and technical concerns, ecological and environmental disruption, disruption to or interference with existing property uses, disruption to or interference with planned property uses and aesthetic displeasure.

Those factors have to be weighed, but ultimately the order exists for the upgrades and Swepco has to find a way make the line happen.

“We have a directive from Southwest Power Pool that we have to get from point A in Benton County to Point B in Carroll County,” Main said. “There are a lot of congested areas. There are a lot of sensitive areas. There are a lot of challenges in how you get there and how you develop that proposed route and what kind of alternatives you can show as well. So it is a very challenging process.”

The line will serve Swepco customers, but some electricity load will go to members of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., Entergy Arkansas and other power providers in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. SPP, which services eight states besides Arkansas, requested the upgrade after seeing projections that customers would be underserved if changes weren’t made to existing lines.

AECC is a power provider that could benefit from the project, though it is not directly involved. Ozarks Electric and Carroll County Electric, part of AECC, could draw from the massive transmission line.

“From a long-range perspective this not only impacts the area we’re talking about, but also Fayetteville and Rogers eventually,” said Rick R. Bittle, vice president of planning, rates and dispatching for AECC. “This is a project that has been planned for a long time. This originally was conceived back in the 2005-2006 timeframe. … Growth in the region has been pushed.”

That need to upgrade infrastructure and the long-range impact on the region will be among the potential positive and negative factors weighed by the administrative law judge at the Aug. 26 hearing. All evidence presented will be taken into consideration, and after reviewing the evidence, the judge can grant, deny or modify the request.

Swepco was ordered earlier this month to drop three alternative routes — Nos. 62, 86 and 91 — from its request. Changes came as a result of public complaint and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers being unwilling to provide land along those three routes with three viable alternatives available.

That leaves preferred route No. 33 and alternates Nos. 108 and 109 on the table. One of the alternate routes eliminated ran near Stowe’s property. Still, he wants to see all the possibilities denied.

Denying the remaining three routes is the only outcome that Stowe and others working with Save the Ozarks will find satisfactory, he said. Stowe added that he is hopeful the public outcry will make a difference, but expects a continued fight if the outcome is approval for Swepco.

“I don’t know about the time and the money making a difference, but from what I’ve seen, if Swepco really decides to go through with this, they better be prepared, not with bulldozers, but with tanks,” Stowe said. “People here are not going to take this lightly. People are so offended, so outraged, so deeply concerned about this, I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve never seen anything like this.”



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