In Congress, Arkansas Lawmakers Want Energy Department to Slow Clean Line Review

In Congress, Arkansas Lawmakers Want Energy Department to Slow Clean Line Review
(To view an interactive map of the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line route by Arkansas county, click here.)

Arkansas' congressional delegation is asking the U.S. Department of Energy to slow the review process for a planned wind-energy transmission line that would cross the state.

The delegation issued a statement Thursday saying they would like answers to concerns about the the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project, a 700-mile, high-voltage wind energy transmission line that would start at the Oklahoma panhandle and run through Arkansas and part of Tennessee.

The DOE on Wednesday gave the project a clean report card in its final environmental impact statement.

The report "did not identify widespread significant impacts as a result of construction or operations and maintenance of the project" and concluded that the line would avoid or minimize the potential for significant environmental effects.

Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas, plans to build the $2 billion transmission line. The company says the line would deliver 4,000 megawatts of "low-cost clean power" to customers in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states in the South.

Clean Line also plans to build a $100 million converter station in central Arkansas to support the line, and a French company recently announced plans to build a West Memphis plant to make the electric insulation and glass blocks required to build it.

More: Read the DOE's full report here (PDF). 

"The release of the Final EIS marks the culmination of more than five years of work and the consideration of thousands of stakeholder comments," Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, said in a news release. "We are pleased to have reached this important project milestone and appreciate DOE’s careful environmental review and analysis of the Plains & Eastern project."

The DOE statement confirmed the preferred route of the transmission line and the location of converter stations along the way, including one in Pope County, Arkansas. Clean Line says the $100 million station will deliver 500 megawatts of "low-cost, clean power" to 160,000 Arkansas homes per year. 

The department began working on the EIS in 2012 and released a draft at the end of last year. It took public comments on the project through April. In response to comments, Clean Line adjusted the line's route and refined converter station siting.

The project has not been without its critics. Some landowners along the route expressed concern about how the tranmission line would affect property values. In response to the project, U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, both Republicans, have spoken in favor of a bill that would limit the federal government's use of eminent domain. Clean Line has said it would only use eminent domain as a "very last resort."

Clean Line said it expects the DOE to issue its final decision on the project by the end of the year.

Clean Line Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado told Arkansas Business that the company identified the route for the Line "using a multi-step process to minimize impacts on existing land use and natural and cultural resources." He noted the stakeholder outreach meetings held at various stages of the process and said meetings were held to foster dialogue and gather information about the areas where the transmission line and other facilities could be located.

"We believe that in the past five plus years there has been ample time and many opportunities for stakeholder input and landowner feedback," said Mario Hurtado, Executive Vice President of Clean Line Energy. "Clean Line has adjusted the proposed route and responded to stakeholder concerns. We appreciate the substantial input received to date and look forward to further conversations with landowners and others. We hope to see the project move forward in a timely manner so that thousands of people can get to work on building the infrastructure that is needed in Arkansas, Oklahoma and throughout the region."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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