Asa Hutchinson: Arkansas Would See Benefits From Clean Line Project

Asa Hutchinson: Arkansas Would See Benefits From Clean Line Project

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson both spoke on Monday about benefits from a controversial proposed electric transmission line that would carry 4,000 megawatts of wind-generated power from the Oklahoma panhandle across the width of Arkansas to points east.

At a news conference at the end of Monday's session of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission's annual conference in Little Rock, Fallin spoke in glowing terms about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a $2.5 billion project being developed by Clean Line Partners of Houston, while Hutchinson took no position as governor. Instead, he said the project had been approved on the federal level and that Arkansas would receive some benefits from it.

"It has been determined to be a federal regulatory issue, and Clean Line has received the federal authorization to build a transmission line," Hutchinson said in response to a question from Arkansas Business. "There has not been any role of the state's to play in terms of that authority, so that has been accomplished at the federal level so there's not any position that's needed by me." 

The project, which is opposed by Arkansas' congressional delegation in Washington, suffered a setback from the Arkansas Public Service Commission in 2011 when the panel found that Clean Line could not qualify as a public utility under state law because it had no customers in the state.

Revised plans call for a $10 million substation in Pope County to deliver 500 megawatts of electricity from the Clean Line to Arkansans. Clean Line officials say clearing of land for construction in Arkansas could begin next year.

"If we're going to have a transmission line going across Arkansas," Hutchinson said, "then we want to have a benefit from it in terms of access to the transmission line for our receipt of some of that energy. That would help us, and so they have allowed us to have that type of access to the transmission line and so we will be receiving some of that energy, and there will be some benefit for Arkansas."

Opponents of the line say it will lower property values on the land it cuts across, mar Arkansas' natural beauty and enrich investors without serving any real need. They also object to what they see as a federal overreach in promoting the project through provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 despite state regulators' opposition.

But Fallin offered full backing to Clean Line. 

"Of course I support the Clean Line and its transmission in exporting wind power through Oklahoma, and as I've talked to Arkansans about it, it can be an asset to you too, to bring renewable energy into both of our states and economies and of course across the nation," Fallin said. "It helps with our air emissions, as we all know, especially as it relates to the Clean Power Plan. It also helps to diversify our energy mix, which is always a top goal of Oklahoma."

In earlier speeches to the IOGCC, which Fallin now chairs and which Hutchinson will lead as chairman starting next year, both governors denounced the Clean Power Plan, part of the Obama administration's initiatives to fight global warming, which seeks to cut emissions from electrical plants burning fossil fuels. 

The governors also suggested that energy policy should be part of the national political debate. Hutchinson noted that not a single question about energy was included in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and he called for more substantive topics in the next debate, rather than talk "about beauty queens."

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