STO rehearing granted, need for project in question  
Becky Gillette

For more than a year Save The Ozarks (STO) has been challenging the need for a 345 kiloVolt transmission line that would require clearing a 150-ft. right-of-way through up to 56 miles of the Ozarks to install a transmission line proposed by American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO).

SWEPCO has to prove there is a need for the project in order to get a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) from the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Monday afternoon the three-member APSC granted a rehearing requested by STO to reconsider need for the project.

The APSC found that while some transmission development in the area appears warranted, the record is presently insufficient to determine need for the project, and whether the project represents an acceptable adverse environmental impact considering the various alternatives.

“Accordingly, the Commission grants rehearing for consideration of additional evidence on the need for, and the potential environmental impact of, the proposed 345 kV project,” the APSC said. “The parties should provide additional testimony and more recent, comprehensive evidence on whether the proposed 345 kV project is needed, whether transmission requirements in the region might be met by alternative options, such as expanding, upgrading, or building lower capacity facilities, including 161 kV lines, and if not why not, the comparative costs associated with the options, the environmental impact of the options, and the long term sufficiency of the options.”

“This is what we were looking for,” Pat Costner, director of Save the Ozarks, said. “We did a solid job. This is a first in Arkansas. No one has ever challenged these lines on the basis of need and brought the project to a halt.”

The APSC also revoked approval of Route 109 that avoided SWEPCO’s preferred Route 33 through Pea Ridge, Garfield and Gateway in favor of going north from Bella Vista to run about 25 miles in Missouri before dropping back down into Arkansas near Beaver before traveling south to a proposed large new substation on the Kings River north of Berryville.

“The parties should provide additional evidence on SWEPCO’s proposed routes,” APSC ruled. “If SWEPCO chooses to propose or modify a route, it should submit proof that all landowners have received the statutory notice.”

Peter Main, spokesman for SWEPCO, said the company is working to determine its next steps and will consult with the Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission organization that directed SWEPCO to build the 345-kV line. SWEPCO had originally planned instead to upgrade existing 161-kilovolt transmission lines in the area.

Main said SWEPCO would continue to fulfill its responsibility to provide a reliable flow of electricity to utilities and customers across the region. 

About 5,000 people submitted comments to APSC opposing the project, the largest number of public comments ever received by APSC. When the APSC originally approved the CECPN for the project and selected Route 109, there was great disappointment.

While opponents were jubilant about Monday’s announcement, there is still a long road to travel.

“I am pleased that the commission is proposing a rehearing, but I realize that this is just one positive first step,” Doug Stowe, of the STO board of directors said. “AEP/SWEPCO completely botched this application from the start. Their legal defense of the project led them to falsify need when challenged by the expertise offered by STO witnesses.”

Stowe said SWEPCO would have gotten away with their proposal but for the fact that the people united to rise up against the project.

“I hope the commission’s order causes them to reflect on how poorly they have handled this process,” Stowe said. “They kept the Shipe Road to Kings River project secret until it could be sprung like a steel trap. It was so poorly conceived that it completely ignored state and federal regulations and input from the Arkansas Department of Heritage and the National Park Service. It completely ignored the adverse economic and environmental impacts that the project would impose upon our small local community.”

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