Seven companies with significant operations in Arkansas spoke out Tuesday in support of the controversial Plains & Eastern Clean Line power transmission project in a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The businesses, including manufacturers Ingersoll Rand, Unilever and LM Wind Power, expressed interest in renewable and low-cost wind power they say their companies could attain through the $2.5 billion high-line project, which would transmit Oklahoma-produced wind power across the width of Arkansas and offer 500 megawatts of electricity to consumers in the state via a converter station planned for Pope County.
The letter, also signed by representatives of AFCO Steel, Maverick Transportation, McGeorge Contracting and Sediver USA, said the companies' "ability to access low-cost power from renewable sources" is essential for their corporate strategies and "an increasingly important factor in our decisions to locate our facilities."
A spokesman for Hutchinson, J.R. Davis, said the governor was attending the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida on Tuesday and would be back in his office Thursday. He wasn't sure if the governor had seen the letter.
The companies collectively employ more than 4,000 Arkansans.
Sediver is nearing completion on a West Memphis factory contracted to provide $60 million worth of glass insulators for the power line, which is planned to cross 12 Arkansas counties. Ingersoll Rand operates a Trane air conditioning factory in Fort Smith, Unilever manufactures hair care products in Jonesboro and LM Wind Power employs about 450 at a facility producing wind turbine blades in Little Rock.
Maverick Transportation is a leading trucking company and McGeorge Contracting owns and operates the largest fleet of heavy earthmoving and grading equipment in Arkansas, according to its website.
The Clean Line, which has met political opposition from the state's entire congressional delegation in Washington and faces a legal challenge from landowners in federal court in Jonesboro, is scheduled to start construction in the second half of next year.
Hutchinson has noted potential benefits from the project but has not been an enthusiastic supporter despite estimates that it could pump up to $660 million into the state's economy. Opponents have alleged federal overreach in the process that approved the line, citing the intervention of the U.S. Department of Energy after plans were rejected by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Critics also fear environmental damage, reduced property values and the risk of unfair application of condemnation powers under eminent-domain law.
But the letter promoted the Clean Line as a means to "dramatically increase the supply of renewable power in the state and ultimately serve many of our operations."
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is planned by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas, which says the project will mean $30 million in payments to Arkansas landowners over the life of the line, and $147 million in tax payments to the counties it crosses.