UPDATED: Power lines: Where to next? Documents show two more mega-lines in Eastern Carroll County

Thursday, August 1, 2013 ~ Updated 10:51 AM
The power industry is proposing two mega-transmission lines that would run eastward from SWEPCO's planned Kings River substation, crossing Carroll County and traversing north and eastern Arkansas. Map illustration by Melody Rust / Lovely County Citizen

Editor's note: An error printed in this week's SWEPCO story below mistakenly said that Save The Ozarks did not, at the Berryville forum last week, present the 2007 and 2011 maps of future power line plans. But the maps were in fact presented at that forum. Discussion of the maps and what they reveal, however, was minimal. The CCN apologizes for the error.

SWEPCO's plans to build a 345,000 Volt electric transmission line will likely, if approved, soon lead to two new additional mega-lines beginning at the proposed Kings River substation and running eastward across the most populated area of Carroll County -- and slicing all the way across the northern third Arkansas.

Indeed, in planning documents used by Southwest Power Pool, the regional reliability organization that oversees utility interconnectivity in much of the South and which has instructed SWEPCO to build the currently proposed line in Western Carroll County, maps for future planning obtained by Lovely County Citizen show not one but two new lines. One of them is proposed to be 345kV, the other one 500kV, which is the largest being used today, and both will begin at the proposed new substation on the Kings River and go eastward.

One line proposed by SPP runs for 130 miles from the new Kings River substation and heads southeast through Berryville, Green Forest, Harrison and Mountain View on its way to an existing station in Newark, Ark. A second project studied by SPP and proposed in a 2009 presentation begins at the Kings River substation and heads east-northeast for 110 miles, cutting north of Berryville, through Omaha, over Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork north of Mountain Home before hitting the Missouri state line at Cox Creek and eventually joining a line already in place at Gobbler Knob, Mo.

In a 2011 planning document, SPP confirmed these plans, dubbed the "Ozark Plan," and estimated the total cost at $915 million.

Glimpse Into The Future

SPP's plans are not generally considered mere proposals by industry experts but instead are more frequently considered a glimpse into the future, since SPP, like other regional reliability organizations, has federal authority to order utility companies to construct the lines as SPP sees fit. And if the first utility SPP orders to construct a new line declines or is otherwise unable to complete the Notice To Construct, then SPP would find another utility to construct the lines they deem as needed, SPP Vice President of Engineering Lanny Nickell has testified to the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Delivery of a Notice To Construct by SPP is exactly what occurred in 2008 when SPP sent SWEPCO orders to build the 345kV line that SWEPCO is now asking the APSC for approval to build.

Nickell told APSC in his testimony that SPP was aware at the time it planned the Shipe Road-Kings River line that additional mega-lines would need to be constructed going eastward from the Kings River substation in order to connect with major power lines in the East.

Entergy would likely be the utility company building the lines going eastward from the Kings River substation, since the routes are largely inside their service territory.

Entergy is not a member of the Southwest Power Pool, which is one of eight regional reliability organizations tasked by the federal government with ensuring electric reliability and supply abundance across the country. Entergy, instead, is a member of a different reliability organization called MISO, or Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.

An Entergy spokeswoman told the Citizen this week they have not yet received instructions -- such as the Notice to Construct sent by SPP to SWEPCO -- from MISO to begin the Ozark Plan projects, but they are closely watching the progress of SWEPCO's efforts on the currently proposed 345kV line through Western Carroll and Benton counties.

"Since April, Entergy Arkansas has been coordinating with SWEPCO, AECC, and SPP to ensure the interconnection could be reliably constructed within the proposed timeframe by June 2016," said Sally Graham with Entergy Arkansas.

The precise plans to construct the Ozark Plan lines going eastward from the Kings River is expected to be included in Entergy's next transmission planning proposal that it will send to MISO later this year, she said. MISO will analyze the proposal, make any needed changes, and eventually approve it sometime late this year or next year, Graham said.

This means an application to the APSC to build the 345kV and 500kV lines going east from the Kings River substation could come as early as later this year, or in 2014.

Ultimately, approval for any new power lines must come from the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which will analyze the utilities' proposals and claims of a demand for more power lines as well as the proposed routes for any new lines, if they are deemed necessary and approved by the Commission.

Rallying Eastern Carroll County

At a Berryville public forum last Thursday on SWEPCO's Ship Road-Kings River proposal, panelists warned residents of Eastern Carroll County that their land would be the next target of the utility industry, in part in an effort to garner opposition support and assistance from more residents east of the river.

Several panelists at the forum, held at Berryville Community Center, warned the standing-room-only crowd about the industry's intentions, but they did not present much hard evidence such as the maps included in SPP's 2007 and 2011 studies.

The forum was hosted by Erin Hayes, a local farmer and retired television journalist for ABC News.

Among the panelists joining Hayes were Susan Brashears, Sharon Spurlin of the Carroll County Community Foundation, Berryville Parks and Rec Director Joe Scott, teacher and Save The Ozarks co-founder Doug Stowe, area landowner and retired Greenpeace scientist Pat Costner, and state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville. Also joining the group was a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Representatives from SWEPCO were invited but declined to attend.

Similar Concerns Across the River

The meeting was generally a reprise of two other meetings held earlier in the month in Eureka Springs where nearly all in attendance expressed either outright opposition to SWEPCO's plans, or voiced concerns about the proposed power line's impact on ground and well water, local business and tourism, bees' and other wildlife habitats, and human and livestock health and safety.

Among the concerns expressed was that none of the power transferred by the proposed lines would actually serve electricity users in Carroll County -- and that the power industry has much "larger" plans in store for the Kings River substation once it is built. The SPP documents certainly confirm their suspicions.

"The power carried by these lines is eight times what we need here," said Hayes. "Our only interruption of service comes from ice storms; we have sufficient electricity for our current needs and any foreseeable development."

State Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, has come out in opposition of SWEPCO's plans and has proposed a one-year moratorium to allow for more study and public input.

On the other hand, Ballinger has adopted a sort of "wait-and-see" attitude; he told the audience at Thursday's forum that he has not decided whether he opposes the project yet. Both Ballinger and King were the recipient of campaign contributions from both SWEPCO and its parent company, AEP.

"My main concern right now is for the rights of property owners," Ballinger said. "I want to hear from the people who are most directly effected by the project -- and they are certainly the people who own property."

SWEPCO's transmission line now being considered for approval by APSC will cross between 46 and 59 miles of Western Carroll County and require an estimated 1,000 acres of land for the 150-foot-wide right-of-way. Six towers will be constructed for every mile of line -- or a minimum of 276 towers, each of which will be 130 to 160 feet tall, twice the height of the tallest towers in the county currently -- and will be the tallest and most visible structures in the county, several officials and opponents have noted.

A final hearing on the project will begin on Aug. 26 at the Arkansas Public Service Commission building in Little Rock and could last for several days. If SWEPCO's plans are approved construction will begin in March 2015.

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Dan Krotz contributed to this report.

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