Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Many area residents spoke clearly and firmly against the American Electric Power/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) power line project at a public meeting June 26. The $117 million project would string about 50 miles of power lines 130 to 160-ft. above the ground over some of the most scenic and environmentally sensitive areas of the Ozarks.
Pat Costner: Utilities running roughshod over the rights of citizens are a longstanding problem in Arkansas, the director of opposition group Save the Ozarks (STO) said. She said the fundamental problem with the Shipe Road to Kings River power line project and other major utility projects in the state is that the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) is a force unto itself that has shown itself to be biased towards the huge utility companies it is supposed to regulate.
Costner said local residents had only 30 days notice to respond to a vague and confusing letter stating their property might be in the path of one of six proposed routes for the power line. “Some companies like Entergy meet with the public before sending out the first public notice,” Costner said. “SWEPCO doesn’t. We had only 30 days to figure this all out and hire an attorney to represent us. The process is neither right nor reasonable because the APSC has not set up proper rules and procedures. Legislative control needs to be exercised with this.”
Costner said the bills proposed by King would not help with the current SWEPCO threat. Fighting to prevent the destruction of their lands and potential devastation of property values, environment, and tourism economy has been expensive. Costner said STO has already raised and spent $150,000 on legal fees. “We may have to raise another $150,000,” Costner said. “I don’t think so. But we will not stop. We will prevail.”
Currently the APSC is reconsidering the Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for the project. STO expert witnesses have argued the project is not needed, and there are other less expensive and less environmentally damaging alternatives to improving power reliability. The APSC also revoked approval of a route going up into Missouri, and is reconsidering SWEPCO’s preferred Route 33 that goes entirely through Arkansas.
Doug Stowe: “All of us felt like small fuzzy animals caught in a steel trap,” Stowe said of the battle to prevent the power line. Stowe, who is a member of the board of directors of STO, said while he appreciates legislators wanting to change the laws governing the APSC, part of the reason residents are facing this problem from SWEPCO is that the APSC doesn’t follow state law. One example is the failure of SWEPCO Environmental Impact Statement to consider the economic impact on local communities.
“State law requires analysis and no analysis was done,” Stowe said. “They just made the assumption that there was no adverse impact. For the APSC to accept that violates state law. Assumption is not the same thing as analysis.”
Stowe said while he favored the legislation creating an Office of Public Council, he said that wouldn’t help if it isn’t funded adequately. Current law requires the APSC to have a rural and community liaison, but the legislature has failed to fund the position. “The legislature realized we needed a defense against these powerful utilities, but they failed to fund it,” he said.
Roger Shepperd: SWEPCO claims the huge new power line is needed because of growing power demand in the region. However, quoting from the annual report of Carroll Electric Cooperation Corp. (CECC), Shepperd said there is no evidence that is the case. In the past year, CECC demand increased only .09 percent and system peak demand is down 10.9 percent. CECC reports that its reliability has improved 55 percent since 2008.
“There is no need for this project,” Shepperd said. “Over the past two-year period, the electrical usage is stagnant, definitely not indicative of a need for a new 345-kV transmission line."
Shepperd got loud applause from the audience after suggesting that one percent of projects like this – more than $1 million in this case – be given to local non-profit organizations for legal and technical representation in opposition to the proposed project.
His other recommendations were:
- Increase the period for response to notification from 30 to 180 days to allow adequate time to organize and prepare.
- Eliminate the ability of entities electing to use eminent domain to declare data secret or proprietary.
- Provide landowners with the option of a “percentage of revenue” from the project that required eminent domain instead of a so-called “fair market value” for the land taken.
Kadie Zeld: The youngest person to speak at the meeting, Zeld said she moved to Eureka Springs from a “dead city” in New York because of the natural beauty and clean environment of the Ozarks. She said she is working three jobs saving to build a home in Eureka Springs. She decided to go totally off the grid after learning about the devastation that would be caused by the SWEPCO power line.
Martha Peine: Peine said SWEPCO is primarily interested in profits, not power reliability, and that SWEPCO is guaranteed a return of 11.2 percent on its investment even if the project is eventually abandoned. Peine said AEP/SWEPCO is moving away from power generation to transmission lines as a profit center, information gleaned from the website Morningstar.com where AEP earnings call transcripts are published.
Peine recommended people look at how SWEPCO used its clout via campaign contributions to legislators to rewrite state laws after SWEPCO lost an appeal of the permit for the controversial Turk coal-powered power plant in southern Arkansas. “Review the changes SWEPCO made in the law,” Peine said. “Some are not good for our state.”
Doc Contreras: Contreras was critical of the director of the APSC, John Bethel, for not responding more to many thousands of public comments opposing the project. He said SWEPCO are dealers of coal power.
“We don’t want any more coal,” Contreras, who has installed solar panels at his home, said. “The era of coal power is gone. We don’t need coal. We don’t need SWEPCO. We need you guys to help.”
L.J. Smole: Smole said King and Ballinger should be using social media like Facebook to communicate opposition to the project. She said legislators need to let voters know their position on important issues like this by communicating to a bigger audience. Sen. Bryan King said he doesn’t use Facebook a lot. His last post on his Facebook page was in early March when he announced he is running unopposed for re-election.
No Facebook page could be found for Rep. Bob Ballinger. Eureka Springs resident Charles “Sonny” Carter is running against Ballinger on a platform to stop SWEPCO and keep the Medicaid private option expansion that Ballinger has voted against.
Ken Brown: Vice president of the Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District, said one route proposed would cross the area on a major route into Holiday Island at the intersection of Hwys. 187 and 23. “That is a beautiful area to destroy,” Brown said. “We need more people to come to Holiday Island. If we have people who are considering moving here go into a power line 150 ft. tall with a 150-ft. right-of-way, they will go somewhere else. We do not need this monstrosity.”
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