A Power Line to Nowhere

Julie Morton Commentary

A Power Line to Nowhere

In 2010, Clean Line Partners LLC applied to the state Public Service Commission to run what was basically an extension cord across Arkansas, carrying power from Oklahoma to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s lines in Tennessee and on to customers on the East Coast.

Let me make clear that I have no property affected by this line.

This is an Opinion

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The PSC turned down plans for the Plains & Eastern Clean Line project because it did not fit the criteria for a public utility in Arkansas. Clean Line went to the federal government to override our PSC, under a 10-year-old law that had never been applied for this purpose. The U.S. Department of Energy agreed to participate in the project and use federal eminent domain against landowners, subject to Clean Line’s meeting strenuous preconditions.

Among those conditions, Clean Line must have committed customers for up to 3,500 megawatts of this electricity and has to serve customers in Arkansas. In a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July 2016, the company’s counsel stated that Clean Line has no customers — not the TVA, none in Arkansas and no end-users on the East Coast. In my right-of-way experience, every project on which I have worked has been built due to customer demand. Instead, Clean Line has used the business model of “if we build it, they will come,” but no one has.

Energy experts know these long-distance lines are outdated and local generation is the future. No one, other than Clean Line and the DOE, thinks there is a need for this line. And the 2008 data used by the DOE to justify this debacle is no longer viable. The only “need” for this line is to enrich Clean Line executives and their investors, the Ziff brothers and the National Grid of Great Britain.

Clean Line has consistently exaggerated the benefits to our state. In contrast to a University of Arkansas study paid for by Clean Line and using Clean Line data, the environmental impact statement for the project shows that Arkansas will gain about 100 direct temporary jobs and 27 permanent ones, with a temporary uptick in manufacturing. For that, we will sacrifice 8,000 acres of our “Natural State” permanently.

Clean Line maintains there will be no property devaluation resulting from the line. Anyone with real estate experience knows these properties will be devalued with 200-foot-high steel towers and 200-foot-wide easements on them, and the tax bases will also decrease. Clean Line says county taxes it will pay will offset the losses. According to the participation agreement the federal Southwestern Power Administration will own 100 percent of the facilities in Arkansas. Doug Hart, CFO of SWPA, says it will pay no taxes. The DOE agreement states that Clean Line “volunteered” to pay taxes, raising the possibility that it can also choose not to pay. Counties could be left with reduced tax bases and nothing to offset it. Farmers in eastern Arkansas won’t be able to use their type of irrigation systems under these lines, reducing crop yields. The state Department of Parks & Tourism has expressed grave concerns about the line’s effect on tourism. It will cross many of our most treasured natural wonders, including the Mississippi Flyway, which generates millions of dollars in tourism revenue.

There were over 10,000 comments submitted during the impact statement phase in opposition to this line from the public, various agencies, American Indian tribes and elected officials at every level. The DOE chose to ignore them. This has resulted in a federal lawsuit being filed in Arkansas questioning the DOE’s participation in this project. (More information is available at GoldenBridgeAR.org.)

If the suit succeeds, all Clean Line projects in the U.S. will be on hold. We are Clean Line Partners’ last hope, and it desperately needs this project to work so its investors will get some return on investment after eight years of spending.

Arkansans need to know this is not a done deal. Clean Line doesn’t have the right of eminent domain because the DOE is not yet participating in the project. Landowners do not have to sign anything for Clean Line or allow its representatives on their property. The opposition to this project does not object to clean energy. Our objection is to the unnecessary devastation to our state and the taking of private property by the federal government for a power line to nowhere serving no one.

Julie Morton of Van Buren has been an independent landman for 31 years. For 10 years she bought electrical transmission line right-of-way for a major utility.