House candidate has questions for SWEPCO
Becky Gillette

Michael Kalagias, Libertarian candidate for District 96 House of Representatives, has been asking questions regarding American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company’s (SWEPCO) proposed 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line that has drawn strong public opposition in the Ozarks.

Kalagias, who is running to represent the area near Pea Ridge, asked SWEPCO why the new lines can’t follow the same exact path that the current lower voltage lines use.

“Would you even need Public Service Commission (APSC) approval to upgrade that line to a higher voltage if you are using the existing right-of-way?” Kalagias said.

Response from SWEPCO was that the possibility of doing as he suggests is being considered in the restudy ordered after the APSC ruled that SWEPCO failed to prove need for the project. But SWEPCO said factors such as engineering for different voltages, wider rights-of-way for higher voltage, locations of existing homes and other structures or adjacent development all impact and possibly limit the ability to use or parallel existing right-of-way. Save the Ozarks (STO), the citizen group opposing the 49-mile-long transmission line as unnecessary and damaging to the tourism economy and the environment, responded to the same question by stating SWEPCO is correct that a higher voltage power line would not fit in existing rights-of-way, but said that is only due to SWEPCO’s insistence on a 150-ft. right-of-way.

“However, if they chose to follow NERC and FERC regulatory standards, a 345 kV power line would fit neatly within a standard 161 kV right-of-way,” said a written response from STO Director Pat Costner and Doug Stowe, a member of the STO board. “So their point is not consistent with federal regulatory standards. We have every reason to believe that their proposed 150-foot right-of-way is to allow for helicopter maintenance of power lines and planned aerial application of herbicides. While this matter has been raised as an issue, SWEPCO has offered no assurances that helicopters will not be used, but rather that they will be when they consider their use most cost effective for the utility.”

Kalagias also asked SWEPCO why the proposal filed with the APSC was only for one line, when the plan calls for a loop of two lines.  SWEPCO’s response was the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) – a regional transmission organization – determined the scope of the project when it identified the project and issued a Notification To Construct to SWEPCO.

STO pointed out that SPP’s plans show a loop in Northwest Arkansas, not a single line.  The northern leg of the loop appears to match Route 33 and the southern leg follows Route 108. 

“The practice of piecemealing (also called ‘segmenting’) comes to mind,” STO said. “According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, utilities attempt to reduce the public’s perception of overall impact of a project by cutting it into bite-sized chunks... thus avoiding the public outrage that would be generated if the project as a whole was understood.”

Kalagias also suggested that while SPP/AEP/SWEPCO re-examines the study used to pick Route 33, it might be easier to close this docket and open a new one, so the company could propose a better modified route not constrained by the variance limit for the already judged “unsuitable” Route 33.

“There is no need to close this docket and open a new one,” SWEPCO responded. “The additional study being conducted by SPP concerns the need for the proposed facilities. Depending upon the outcome of the SPP study, SWEPCO is authorized by the Commission to propose modifications to its proposed routes with proper notice to all affected landowners. In its order granting rehearing, the Commission has specifically directed the parties to provide evidence whether existing 161 kV lines could be upgraded or existing rights-of-way used or expanded so as to limit adverse environmental impacts.”

SWEPCO said it will follow the directives of the APSC to determine whether existing 161 kV lines could be upgraded or existing rights-of-way used and would make any required adjustments to its proposed route as necessary and feasible.

STO disagrees, stating the appropriate time for a 161 kV power line to have been submitted for APSC consideration would have been concurrent with the application for a 345 kV power line, not after the evidence for the 345 kV power line had been proved insufficient, particularly since this option had first been proposed by the applicant and subsequently ignored.

Another question from Kalagias was why SWEPCO had a problem with the Commission’s Administrative Law Judge order restricting the use of herbicides. Pollution of land, vegetation and drinking water supplies with herbicides has been one of the biggest concerns of opponents of the project. The ALJ ruled, “SWEPCO shall avoid construction and maintenance practices that are inconsistent with the landowner’s or tenant’s use of the land, particularly the use of fertilizer, herbicides or other pesticides. To that effect, SWEPCO shall contact the landowner or his designee to obtain approval for the use of any herbicide prior to any application on the right-of-way.”

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