Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The citizen group Save The Ozarks (STO) has questioned the requested 150 ft. right-of-way (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company has proposed for its Shipe Road to Kings River high voltage transmission line.
“A 150-foot right-of-way is established to provide for the reliable and safe operation of the 345-kV line,” said SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main. “AEP is required to follow national reliability standards that were set for the benefit of electric customers, and AEP is subject to substantial financial penalties for violations. The 150-foot right-of-way will allow AEP to comply with industry reliability standards.”
STO maintains that other utility companies using similar high voltage lines have smaller rights-of-way that take less private property, disturb the land and wildlife less, and require less spraying with herbicides for continued maintenance.
“The 150 foot right-of-way is not required by the National Electric Safety Code and it is not a federal mandate,” said STO Director Pat Costner. “It’s only an AEP/SWEPCO policy.” Main did not respond to a question asking for a citation from national standards that dictates the 150-foot right-of-way.
“We became curious why SWEPCO insists on a 150 foot right-of-way for their 345-kV power line proposed across Northwest Arkansas,” STO board member Doug Stowe said. “The UPAC Guide published by the Helicopter Association International explains it. The National Electric Safety Code requires only 20 foot 4 inches distance between the power lines and vegetation. To meet NESC standards, a right-of way for a 345 kV power line needs be no wider than 50 feet. The use of helicopters for power line maintenance sets forth additional power line right-of-way width requirements.
“Despite what the power company tells us, the FERC and the National Electric Safety Code have nothing to do with the right-of-way width they insist upon for this power line,” Stowe said. “There is only one reason in the world SWEPCO would insist on a 150 foot right-of-way. They plan to be using helicopters on our properties all across Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri. And once they’ve acquired the right-of-way, there will be no way to stop the terror of it. It will have devastating effects on wildlife, livestock and human beings living in reasonable proximity to these power lines.”
In Stowe’s case along alternate Route 91, because of the steep terrain and location of the right-of-way, helicopters would have been flying at eye level 75 ft. from his deck. The route by his house was later dropped from consideration, but he has concern for others along the proposed route who would have their lives disrupted by the noise and danger from low flying helicopters.
Main denied that the right-of-way width was designed to accommodate helicopters, and said helicopters are used throughout AEP’s service territory to patrol transmission lines when needed to locate storm-related damage so they can respond faster to outages, and usually once or twice a year for inspection of lines or rights-of-way to identify maintenance issues and help ensure reliability.
“For line construction, use of helicopters can have less impact on the ground than other equipment and may be necessary or better suited for some locations,” Main said. “We have not determined whether they would be used in construction of the Shipe Road-Kings River line.”
Stowe said the cheap and effective use of helicopters for power line maintenance must be good for the profits of AEP/SWEPCO or they wouldn’t have planned such a thing.
“Enduring the noise, the hazards, and fear that accompany such work should not be routine for residents of Northwest Arkansas or anyplace else in the state,” Stowe said in a letter to legislators. “No right-of-way agreement currently in force should be allowed to grant or grandfather such intrusions into the lives of Arkansans.”
SWEPCO claims in order to meet federal reliability standards the entire right-of-way must be kept clear cut. But according to (NERC) best management practices, clear cutting is not even required for construction.
“One way to accommodate variances in topography is to establish different regions based on wire height,” states the NERC document, Transmission Vegetation Management NERC Standard FAC-003-2 Technical Reference. “For example, over canyon bottoms or other areas where conductors are 100 feet or more above the ground, only a few trees are likely to be tall enough to conflict with the lines. In those cases, trees that potentially interfere with the transmission lines can be removed selectively on a case-by-case basis.”
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