SWEPCO rehearing granted; Public Service Commission wants more evidence on need, alternative options
LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted its approval for a full rehearing of Southwestern Electric Power Co.'s application to build a giant transmission line across portions of Carroll and Benton counties.
Save The Ozarks and SWEPCO in mid-March both filed petitions requested a rehearing in the April 2013 application by SWEPCO to build a 345 kV power line across Benton and Carroll counties, its route spanning 50-something miles through untouched terrain and neighborhoods alike before connecting to a proposed new substation on the Kings River near Berryville.
SWEPCO requested a partial rehearing, primarily over the question of whether its proposed Route 33, the favorite route of the utility company, was "unreasonable" as was previously decided by APSC Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin.
STO requested a complete rehearing based on a number of laws it says SWEPCO did not follow in order to gain the approval granted by Griffin in her late January ruling. Griffin approved SWEPCO's application to build the line but only approved Route 109, the least-favored by SWEPCO because 25 or so miles of it goes through Missouri -- a state that is seen as unlikely to OK the project within its borders, in part since the utility is not a provider in Missouri.
The APSC, in its ruling issued late Monday, focused much on the question of whether a new line is even needed in this area of the state, and basically said that SWEPCO had not presented enough evidence to prove so, much less prove that the new line needs to be the largest type in existence.
"While the evidence on need is disputed, the record in this (case) does not contain evidence that future reliability requires new or upgraded transmission facilities in Northwest Arkansas," the ruling states. "Considering all the evidence provided to date, the Commission finds that, while some transmission development in the area appears warranted, the record is presently insufficient to determine the need for the particular 345 kV project that has been proposed, whether that project is consistent with the public convenience and necessity, and whether the project represents an 'acceptable adverse environmental impact, considering ... the various alternatives, if any, and other pertinent considerations.'
"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 ruling continues. "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 expanding, upgrading or building lower capacity facilities, including 161kV 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."
The Commission also granted a rehearing on the top of the routing of the proposed transmission line.
"With regard to routing, the parties should provide evidence whether existing 161 kV lines could be upgraded or existing rights-of-way used or expanded so as to limit adverse environmental impact," the ruling states.
Lastly, the Commission overturned Griffin's previous decision approving SWEPCO's plans but along Route 109 only.
Save The Ozarks leaders were pleased with the decision and noted another long battle ahead.
"We see this decision as a very positive sign," said STO founder Pat Costner. "For Save the Ozarks, it's an acknowledgement that we presented some compelling evidence, especially the evidence showing there is no need for this 345 kV transmission line. We look forward to bringing forward more evidence on need and other issues."
For more on this developing story, read this week's Lovely County Citizen.