The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday approved the proposed Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project. The Department of Energy said it would partner with the project’s developer, Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, on the power transmission line to deliver 4,000 megawatts of electricity from yet-to-be-developed wind farms in the Oklahoma Panhandle to a delivery converter station near Memphis, Tennessee, and interconnect to the Tennessee Valley Authority. This will create a market of millions of TVA customers in the mid-South and Southeast for power from Oklahoma wind farms. Clean Line will operate as the transmission provider for power from wind farms developed by other companies. The approximately 700-mile transmission system is expected to have endpoints in the Oklahoma Panhandle near Guymon and in western Tennessee northeast of Memphis. The proposed route approved Friday would extend from Texas County, Oklahoma, east across the Panhandle just north of the Texas state line. The proposed route would cut southeast across Woodward County, crossing Major County and into Garfield County just north of Kingfisher County. The route passes through the northern portion of Logan County and into Payne County, passing a short distance south of Stillwater. After passing through Creek, Okmulgee, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties the route enters Arkansas north of Fort Smith. The route heads through the middle of Arkansas north of Little Rock before entering Tennessee north of Memphis. DOE’s decision marks a critically important step toward delivering low-cost, clean energy from wind farms in Oklahoma to consumers in the mid-South and Southeast states, Clean Line Energy

Partners said in a media release on Friday. The $2.5 billion project is funded by private investment. “The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in the nation and will modernize the U.S. electric grid while bringing forth new investment, job creation, and more low-cost power for American consumers,” Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly said in the press release. A converter station near Russellville, Arkansas, will represent an investment of more than $100 million in Arkansas, according to Clean Line. Friday’s approval by the U.S. Department of Energy angered some Arkansas politiral government is helping the project bypass state utility regulators.

The agency, invoking the infrastructure-improvement Energy Policy Act of 2005, said it would participate in the transmission project.

Arkansas’ Public Service Commission ruled against the transmission line project in 2011, saying Clean Line Energy Partners didn’t qualify as a public utility serving the state’s power consumers.

All six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation decried federal involvement in the project, saying it would usurp the will of state politicians and policymakers, and that they’d check on whether the agency met each condition required before joining an infrastructure project.

“Today marks a new page in an era of unprecedented executive overreach,” members of the delegation wrote in a joint statement. “DOE has decided to forgo the will of the Natural State and take over the historic ability of state-level transmission control through this announcement.”

In a conference call with reporters, Clean Line Energy’s Skelly said the company will not go back before Arkansas regulators, adding that the commission previously called the project laudatory, but found it did not have jurisdiction.

“It’s not up to us to decide what the laws should be. … Congress decides, and we and others work within the framework of existing law,” Skelly said.

He likened it to the federal government’s role in developing the country’s network of gas pipelines and interstate highways.

Company officials also said provisions have been built into the plan to allow homeowners to choose from different easement payment options and to request commercial arbitration when a property value cannot be agreed upon.

Clean Line Energy Partners said the $2.5 billion project, for which construction is expected to begin next year, would support thousands of jobs in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Energy said it was taking part to build a more reliable power grid and would exercise eminent domain only as a last resort – and after the project organizers prove the transmission project will be successful.

The Sierra Club said transmitting wind power over long distances would help the country meet terms agreed to at the Paris climate summit last fall. Its local chapter hailed the decision.

“Putting thousands of megawatts of clean wind energy onto the grid – including 500 megawatts for Arkansas –will undoubtedly lead to less dirty coal and gas being burned for electricity,” said Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas Sierra Club.

Story by:  Journal Record