Report: Clean Line Project Could Mean $660M Impact in Arkansas

The construction and operation of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project could mean more than $660 million for the Arkansas economy, according to researchers from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.

According to Kathy Deck, director of the CBER and principal author of the study, the project would generate more than $180 million in total labor income and more than $660 million of total economic output in the state.

More: Read the complete study.

The Plains & Eastern Clean Line would be a 700-mile direct current transmission line delivering wind-generated electrical energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Arkansas, Tennessee and other states in the Mid-South and Southeast. 

Deck's study analyzes the total economic activity generated by the construction of line and associated facilities, as well as the production of components such as transmission structures, conductor wire and insulators.

The study says the project's construction would create an average of 855 jobs during the 30-month construction period, and and additional 693 indirect and induced jobs. The operation of the line would create a demand for 41 permanent operations and maintenance jobs in Arkansas and 28 associated indirect and induced jobs.

Clean Line President Michael Skelly said that these numbers, especially those in the job creation category, were higher than he expected, and called the project an "important economic boost for the state."

"When you build big projects like this it creates a lot of jobs and a lot of investment and a valuable tax base for the future," Skelly told Arkansas Business on Wednesday. "The other reason why it’s important is that we’re moving in this country toward a cleaner energy mix, and there’s great interest around the country and around the world in new technologies that can provide us cleaner energy — and wind energy is a big part of that, solar is part of that and natural gas is a part of that."

According to Skelly, the environmental affects of the project are minimal. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy 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.

For the average consumer, he said that this project is important because most people would prefer to use cleaner energy sources.

"Given a choice, they’d rather their electricity came from clean, renewable sources. That’s just what the average person would prefer," Skelly said. "They don’t really think about it all that much."

Opponents of the plan say that the company might need to use eminent domain to acquire land for the transmission line. But Skelly said he hopes that this isn't the case, and he said he doesn't believe it will come down to that.

Instead, Clean Line will buy easements, or the right to cross or use the land for a specified purpose, from property owners.

"If they have say 100 acres of land, we don’t need to buy the land, we just need an easement that permits us to install the transmission line," Skelly said. "And they would be able to farm underneath it, raise cattle, do whatever they were doing. We’ll pay them 100 percent of the value of that land but they can continue to use it. We won’t own it. And we’ll also to continue to pay them every year a payment for each tower they have on their land."

Skelly also said the company would work with landowners to place structures where they would like on the property, and said he believes that they are compensating people fairly.

More: Read Clean Line's pitch to landowners on compensation for easements.

Still, members of Arkansas' congressional delegation have voice concerns over the possibility of eminent domain. 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, which would affect the Clean Line project. They've also asked the DOE to slow the review process for the project.

Right now, the DOE is scheduled to make a decision about Clean Line at the end of December. Skelly expects the decision will be positive based on the environmental impact study. 

Assuming the project goes clears that hurdle, the company spend 2016 on design, engineering and surveying work and begin construction in 2017 with the goal to be complete in 2020.

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