40 landowners on proposed SWEPCO routes not notified till last week; deadline extended slightly

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Around two or three dozen residents who live in the "Eureka Springs West" community around Busch and the Beaver Dam area came to a short impromptu meeting Sunday at Riverview Resort to learn more about SWEPCO's proposed 345 kV transmission line and to fill out comment forms.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Forty landowners who could be affected by the 345 kV transmission line planned to be constructed by SWEPCO to go through Carroll County received late notices last week when it was discovered they had been inadvertently left out.

Their notices were mailed April 22, along with a letter stating it was because of a GIS problem they had been missed.

"The GIS data we were using was incomplete," said Peter Main, SWEPCP spokesman. That came to our attention after we had done the mailing to more 800 landowners. So we went back and did some additional records research and found 40 additional landowners."

He said SWEPCO had used an outside source for its GIS data.

Some of the landowners on the list own property in the potentially affected areas but have mailing addresses elsewhere, such as several property owners who live within the city limits of Eureka Springs.

According to Pat Costner, an organizer of Save the Ozarks, which opposes the transmission line, and whose land would be affected by several of the alternate transmission line routes, "Based on mailing addresses, the Eureka Springs area has the highest number of potentially affected landowners, at 120." She said Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville have the next highest numbers.

The route being recommended by SWEPCO is "Route 33," which goes into the rural areas north of Eureka Springs.

She noted that 29 of the 40 landowners, or 72.5 percent, live in the Eureka Springs area.

"How is it that their GIS system failed so spectacularly in the Eureka Springs area?" she asked.

SWEPCO's notice to these late landowners states that because of the late notice, they will be able to have 30 days to intervene in SWEPCO's application to the Arkansas Public Service Commission and/or appear on a limited basis once the commission sets a hearing. As the original notice went out April 2 and those who received them had until May 3 to intervene, those notified late will have 30 days from April 24.

A number of questions from the public about this project have arisen in the press and at meetings of concerned citizens held by the STO.

One of those is that SWEPCO is planning, not one, but two 345 kV transmission lines.

"That probably comes from the reference to the double-circuit capacity, which is a listing on some of the drawings," said Peter Main, SWEPCO spokesman. "There is a single pole designed. The pole has the capability of carrying a 345 kV circuit on each side of the pole. However, our application is for a single 345 kV circuit. There are no plans for a second circuit line."

As to the need for such a line at all, considering when the Ozark Transmission Study was done, in 2007, before the economic downturn of 2008 and subsequent years, Main said the study served as a foundation for the long-term planning for this region, which encompasses not just Carroll County, but nine states under the jurisdiction of the Southwest Power Pool. In addition to reinforcing capabilities in easter Benton and Carroll counties, the line is "part of the broader, long-term, regional responsibilities that the Southwest Power Pool is planning for in Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri," Main said. "So they're looking at where the backbone of the electric system needs to be to relieve overloading in certain areas so that those resources will be there when the time comes."

In terms of overloading, he said that if you lose a line in one place, "the electricity will flow through to other lines to get the load that it serves. And if those lines become overloaded beyond their rated capacity, they can fail."

He said looking at potential failures due to storms or other events is part of long-range planning.

As for the rate of return that SWEPCO would get once the transmission line is completed and operating in June 2016, Main said that rate would be established after a rate case.

"During a rate case, the commission will look at all of the total costs to build the line to serve customers and all the associated costs," he said.

"One thing we have indicated is that this, being a high-voltage line serving a large area, is used by multiple transmission users, so the cost is shared by SWEPCO and other third-party users within the Southwest Power Pool. It means they would pay for the service of using the transmission line. We're an investor-owned utility, and the way we're governed, we construct and place facilities in service and then we seek recovery of the cost of those facilities after they're in service."

Carroll Electric and other third-party users would have to pay for using the transmission line through their purchase of power from the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

Main said there seems to be some confusion among citizens about the comment process. Those who received initial notices in the beginning of April had a deadline of May 3 to intervene in SWEPCO's petition and to file an application to make a limited appearance at the hearing. Those who received them late will have until May 24 to do so.

"That 30-day period is prescribed by Arkansas law, not set by SWEPCO," Main said. "That only applies to intervening. Letters can also be submitted all throughout the procedure, and people also have an opportunity to appear at the public hearing. They can do both."

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