Wind energy project to benefit Arkansas

A $3.5 billion proposal to erect 800 miles of power transmission lines from wind farm plants in Oklahoma and two other states to the Tennessee Valley Authority would route cable across Arkansas and benefit the economy with jobs and tax dollars, supporters say.

Many of the blades, wind turbines and other equipment for power-generating wind turbines now operating in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have been or will be manufactured by LM Windpower in Little Rock, Nordex USA in Jonesboro and Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas Inc., which is building a wind power equipment plant in Fort Smith.

A Malvern cable company has reached an agreement to supply $100 million of cable for the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project.

“This is huge,” said Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggins, who along with other county judges have been briefed several times on the project and its potential benefits to local economies in the state

“The jobs, clearing the right-of-ways, the construction workers that would be needed to put the actual lines in, and I’m sure they would hire local people to go do the maintenance for years and years to come … plus the property tax dollars,” said Scroggins, president of the County Judges Association of Arkansas.

Mario Hurtado, vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, a Houston-based company overseeing the project, said he expects work to begin in 2014 and expects the project to be completed and in operation by 2017, though he acknowledged it still faces regulatory and environmental hurdles.

“It’s a long process,” Hurtado said in a recent interview with the Arkansas News Bureau. “We’ve been working on this project for about two years and we have several more years of regulatory and environmental permitting to get done before we’re ready to build it.”

Last month, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission granted public utility status to Clean Line Energy Partners. The company’s application for similar status in Arkansas was rejected by the PSC in January.

“I know they are considering making further effort to obtain a certificate (of convenience and necessity as a public utility) from the commission, but they haven’t made any additional filings yet,” said John Bethel, executive director of the state PSC staff.

Bethel said one reason for the denial of Clean Line Energy’s request was that state law requires a utility to serve customers in Arkansas, “but their project as presented to the commission was not going to serve any customers in Arkansas, it was just going to traverse Arkansas.”

“There also wasn’t any demonstration that the project was required or needed to serve customers in Arkansas,” he said.

Hurtado said questions raised by the Arkansas PSC are being addressed and another application will be filed.

“We’re having constructive dialogue with the PSC and others in the state,” Hurtado said.

Under the proposal, wind power from wind farm plants in western Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and southwestern Kansas would be harnessed and sent through 800 miles of power lines through Oklahoma, Arkansas and into western Tennessee, where it would be distributed by the Tennessee Valley Authority across the southeastern United States, Hurtado said.

He said Clean Line Energy plans to hire local companies and contractors in the states where the transmission lines will be built.

Earlier this year, the company announced that Pelco Structural LLC in Claremore, Okla., would be the preferred supplier for tubular steel transmission structures. The deal is estimated at about $300 million and Pelco said it plans to hire more than 100 additional workers.

Clean Line Energy also announced that General Cable of Malvern would provide about $100 million in cable for the project.

Lisa Lawson, vice president of corporate communications for General Cable, which is headquartered in Highland Heights, Ky., said the agreement is significant for the company and that the project would have major dividends for Arkansas. The Malvern plant employs about 150 workers.

“It’s very good for the state of Arkansas,” Lawson said. “It will be very good for our factory. While it will not require us to expand or add people, it will keep us quite busy.”

Hurtado also said Clean Line Energy has been meeting with environmental groups across Arkansas to discuss the project and determine the best routes for transmissions lines, and what areas to avoid.

“I really appreciated their style,” Nature Conservancy of Arkansas Director Scott Simon said. “They knew they were going through the Natural State and they wanted to make sure they did avoid or minimize possible damage to some of the really neat areas,” Simon said.

Ethan Nahte, executive director of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, said that during a meeting in April, Clean Line Energy officials produced several maps showing possible routes for transmission lines.

“They had four or five different paths,” Nahte said. “Some of the paths, like one going through the Cache River (National Wildlife Refuge) … we said, ‘probably not a good idea.’”

Joe Holmes, marketing and communications director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the agency was aware of the project but had not conducted a study to determine the economic impact it would have on the state.

Last month, Clean Line Energy announced a Memorandum Of Understanding between the Plains and Eastern Clean Line and the TVA, which generates electricity to parts of seven southeastern states. Under the agreement, TVA will study the benefits of wind energy to their stakeholders and customers.

The Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division Board of Commissioners also recently passed a resolution unanimously supporting the development and implementation of wind energy transported by transmissions lines to western Tennessee.

Clean Line Energy has yet to apply to the Tennessee Public Service Commission for status as a public utility, a company spokesman said last week.