A group of local landowners is telling an energy company it can run transmission lines across their property - as long as it compensates the residents fairly and annually.

A petition is being circulated for other residents to sign and lend their support for measures to control the energy company and others like it.

The company in question is Plains & Eastern Clean Line Oklahoma LLC (Clean Line), which is actually based out of Houston, but wants to build 2 high-voltage, direct current transmission lines carrying wind-generated electricity from Northwest Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and Southwest Kansas to the mid-South and Southeast, according to the company's website www.plainsandeasterncleanline.com.

As it works to construct those lines, Clean Line is seeking public utility status so that it may use eminent domain procedures to acquire right-of-way.

It is the fear of several area landowners that Clean Line would then use the right of eminent domain to take their land while underpaying them, which is why they formed a coalition to try to protect their own rights.

THEY WON'T ACCEPT ONE-TIME PAYOFFS

“The Southern Great Plains Property Rights Coalition (SGPPRC) was formed when it became apparent there would be a number of attempts like this, and that there would be concerns about fair compensation,” coalition member Margaret Benbrook said.

The membership of SGPPRC will tell the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and any company that wants to use the Great Plains for their purposes without giving local landowners fair, annual compensation that the coalition says no to granting public utility status to out-of-state transmission line builders, Benbrook said.

“We say yes to fair annual compensation for transmission lines, rather than a one-time, below-market-value payment,” Benbrook said, which SGPPRC claims Clean Line wishes to do.

But Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners, said earlier this week the company has a “landowners’ code of conduct.”

Hurtado also said the company knows it will be successful “based largely on how we treat our stakeholders.”

A NEW FRONTIER

While compensation is the coalition's main concern, it is not the only one.

“Since their lines are a direct current, they will not provide Oklahomans with electricity,” Benbrook said.

In addition, she said the new transmission lines "will diminish land value, change farming practices and destroy wildlife habitat."

So beyond compensation, the SGPPRC also wants to see regulation of the placement of substations as well as the transmission lines themselves, Benbrook said.

Chuck Smith of Harper County, a member of the SGPPRC board of directors, said the citizens’ group is treading new ground in its desire to see regulation of wind energy development.

“Like it was in the ‘20s with no water law, Oklahoma has no wind law,” Smith said, noting “We’ve never had a need for such."

As far as how the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) is addressing this new frontier of wind energy regulation, fellow SGPPRC board member Sue Selman of Woodward said, "It's the wild, wild west down there."

EXERCISING THE RIGHT TO PETITION

Benbrook said the OCC is scheduled to hear Clean Line's request to be granted public utility status on Nov. 19.

In advance of that session, SGPPRC is circulating a petition that will be presented to the Governor, members of the state legislature and Congress which is "asking for just treatment for all area landowners/homeowners and for the respect of private property rights."

In Woodward, copies of the petition can be found at Bank 7, Bay's Feed & Supply, Central National Bank of Enid, Cowboy Country Store, Cowboy's Tack Shop, and Stormy's.

Copies of the petition are also available at the Central National Bank of Enid in Mooreland and Freedom State Bank.

“Concerned citizens may also write directly to the OCC at christianwhitney@occemail.com, or (voice concerns) by calling (405) 522-9844,” Benbrook said.

Benbrook emphasizes that the group is not anti-wind power generation.

“The petition clearly states support for the expansion and development of Oklahoma wind energy,” she said.

She also wants to make it clear that SGPPRC is a pro-property rights group, which Smith and Selman echoed.

Benbrook said new members are welcome to join SGPPRC.

“Contact Sue Selman at (580) 256-2006 to be added to the membership and e-mail list,” Benbrook said.

Those wanting to join or who would just like more information on the coalition, may also attend the SGPPRC board meeting on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. at High Plains Technology Center.

"The meeting is open to the public,” Benbrook said.

A WAITING GAME

Also next month, the coalition plans to have representatives at the OCC session on Nov. 19. Benbrook said they will be allowed to speak on record to commissioners.

But although the Corporation Commission is set to hear Clean Line's proposal on Nov. 19, OCC media spokesman Matt Skinner said an official decision on whether public utility status will be granted to Clean Line won't be made until after an administrative law judge presents a position on the request on Dec. 10.  However, if final approval is granted in December, Clean Line says on its website that construction on the project will likely start in 2015.

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