The Woodward News

February 3, 2013

DOE discusses Clean Line impact

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Representatives from the U. S. Department of Energy seemed pleased with the participation received in a recent scoping meeting held to gather public input on Clean Line Energy's proposed transmission line project.

The scoping meeting, which is part of a series of public meetings sponsored by the DOE, was held Thursday evening at the Woodward Conference Center.

The purpose of the scoping meetings is to gather information about potential environmental impacts of the Clean Line transmission project, which is also known as the Plains & Eastern project.

Through the Plains & Eastern project, the Houston-based Clean Line Energy is proposing to build high voltage direct current electric transmission lines with the capacity to deliver around 3,500 megawatts from wind farms and other power sources in the Oklahoma Panhandle to connect with the Tennessee Valley Authority near Memphis, Tenn.  The project will traverse approximately 700 miles across Oklahoma, Arkansas and western Tennessee as it seeks to help supply electricity to load-serving entities in the southeast United States.

Once the series of 12 public meetings and the 90-day public comment period are completed, DOE will compile all the comments it receives, analyze the potential environmental impacts and prepare a draft Economic Impact Statement (EIS) document.  The draft EIS will then go through its own period of public review to help ensure that no potential impact is overlooked before a final EIS will be published and presented to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.

The Energy Secretary will then use the information in the EIS to decide whether the Department of Energy will participate in the transmission line project, and if so, to what extent.

The EIS is required as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that all federal agencies must consider the potential impacts that a project may have on the environment before the agency can proceed with the project.



CONCERNS ABOUT IMPACT ON LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKENS

Thursday's EIS scoping meeting in Woodward was led by Jane Summerson, a DOE NEPA compliance officer.

In a presentation to an audience of about 25 people, Summerson shared a list of environmental topics that the DOE has identified as potential impacts to be analyzed in the EIS.  These topics include land use, water use, affect on wildlife, socioeconomics, historic and cultural resources, geology and soil, human health, accidents and hazards, waste management and more.

In a question and answer period following her presentation, several audience members asked questions about issues relating to one or more of these topics.

For example, relating to wildlife impacts, a couple of audience members asked about the project's potential impact on the lesser prairie chicken.  

There was concern about how if approved, the transmission line would lead to the construction of even more wind farms in prime lesser prairie chicken lands in order to provide more electricity for the transmission lines to carry.  There was also concern about how the project would proceed should the lesser prairie chicken be classified as either a threatened or endangered species.

Summerson said that the listing of the prairie chicken wouldn't prohibit construction of the transmission line.  However, she said Clean Line would have to develop a plan showing how if they could not avoid impacting the prairie chicken, they would minimize impact and mitigate that impact.  This plan would then have to be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before the project could proceed and certainly before DOE would participate, she said.

As for the construction of more wind farms, Summerson agreed that is likely should the transmission line project proceed.  However, she said whoever builds those new wind farms would have to develop their own plans to avoid, or at least minimize and mitigate the wind farms' impacts on wildlife, including the lesser prairie chicken.



OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT QUESTION AND COMMENTS

Another concern broached dealt with socioeconomic impact of the project, as audience members wanted to know what kind of financial benefit the area might see from the project.

Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of Clean Line, who also attended Thursday's meeting, said that the project would have an approximately "$2 million per mile investment" into the area economy just for construction of the transmission line alone.  Hurtado said Clean Line would then be responsible for paying Oklahoma ad valorem taxes on an annual basis with the revenue to be paid to the counties, divvied up based on how many miles of the line stretch through a particular county.

Another question dealt with waste management impacts and who would be responsible if the transmission line were to be abandoned at a later date.  Summerson said that is something the DOE would have to research as part of the EIS to see how the lines could be decommissioned and what the recommended action would be.  She added that if DOE chooses to join in the project, "it could be built into an agreement between the Department of Energy and Clean Line that after the transmission line is left abandoned for a certain time, then Clean Line would have to take certain steps to decommission it."

Something else Summerson said the DOE would have to do more research into is the potential health hazards the transmission line could have on persons living and working around the operational line.  The issue was broached Thursday after an audience member expressed concerns over the fact that the proposed Plains & Eastern would be a direct current (DC) line, whereas traditionally electricity transmission lines have used alternating current (AC).

Summerson explained that the direct current technology is fairly recent, but that "in terms of the electric magnetic field effect, I've heard that DC is better and has less of an effect on organic tissue such as those in animals and humans than AC."



A NEW CONCERN

There was one question asked Thursday that Summerson said wasn't included on the DOE's list of potential impacts; it had to do with noise.  While DOE included construction noise as part of its concerns, she said the noise of the transmission line itself was something that her office hadn't considered before.

"We got to looking and realized we don't have noise on our list of environmental topics," she said.  "That's why we ask for and appreciate people's comments.  That's why this (scoping) process is so important, so we don't miss anything."

As for how noisy the line is, Hurtado said he has been told that the direct current lines don't make as much of an electric humming sound like traditional alternating current lines do.  Instead, he said the lines can make "some crackling sounds" as air particles in the corona around the lines ionize and "pop."

Even with this crackling, Hurtado said "the noise level is not considered high."  However, he didn't have a specific decibel measurement, but said that it had been "characterized to me as being similar to the level of a conversation between 2 people."

Summerson encouraged the audience member to make a written comment about her concern over noise level so that the DOE would be sure to research the issue further and determine the potential decibel output of the transmission line.

She assured the audience that all public comments concerning the environmental impact of the Plains & Eastern project that are received during the public comment period will be read and addressed in the EIS document.

The public comment period continues through March 21, with comments being accepted through an online comment form available at the project website, plainsandeasterneis.com.  Comments may also be made by e-mail to info@plainsandeasterneis.com or sent by postal mail to Plains & Eastern Clean Line EIS, 1099 18th St., Suite 580, Denver, CO 80202.

Summerson said a 90-day comment period was established because "to do a good job and give everybody a chance to be heard takes time."