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Agency declares wish to aid power-line plan

Legislators ask U.S. to delay decision by Dave Hughes | November 5, 2015 at 2:58 a.m. | Updated November 5, 2015 at 2:59 a.m.

The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday released a final environmental impact statement declaring that it prefers to partner with a private power company to build a high-voltage wind transmission line through Arkansas.

The impact statement also says the Energy Department wants to participate with Clean Line Energy Partners LLC in the development of a power-converter station in the state to deliver up to 500 megawatts of power.

The statement posted Wednesday on the Energy Department's website said the department may issue a record of decision no sooner than 30 days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Notice of Availability of the final environmental impact statement is published in the Federal Register.

A news release from Clean Line on Wednesday said the record of decision will include the Energy Department's decision on whether and how the federal agency and its Southwestern Power Administration would participate in the project. It also will include the agency's decision regarding preferred locations for power line routes and power stations in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The release said Clean Line expected the record of decision to be issued by the end of the year.

The entire Arkansas congressional delegation Wednesday sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, urging him to postpone issuing the record of decision until he has responded to the issues that delegation members raised in a Sept. 14 letter.

In the September letter, the members asked for more information on, among other things, the authority that Clean Line would get from the partnership with the Energy Department and stated concerns on the partnership's effects on Arkansas and its communities.

"The department should not have issued the [final environmental impact statement] before responding to our September 14 letter, which specifically urged that 'in our initial response to this letter, please provide an anticipated timeline for a comprehensive response and production of requested information,'" the Wednesday letter said.

In partnering with the Energy Department on the project, Clean Line would gain the power of eminent domain to acquire the necessary rights of way for the transmission line.

The company has said it would use eminent domain as a last resort and would rely on negotiations with property owners to get the rights of way.

"The release of the final EIS [environmental impact statement] marks the culmination of more than five years of work and the consideration of thousands of stakeholder comments," Clean Line President Michael Skelly said in the release.

The multibillion-dollar transmission line project would involve the construction of 700 miles of high-voltage, direct-current power lines from the panhandle of Oklahoma, through Arkansas and into Tennessee, where the energy would be distributed to users in the southeast United States. The section in Arkansas would pass through 12 counties.

"Today's news is a significant step toward ramping up clean wind energy in our region," Arkansas Sierra Club Director Glen Hooks said in a statement. "The Clean Line project will mean 4,000 megawatts of wind energy, including 500 megawatts right here in Arkansas and will also lead to the retirement of several dirty coal-fired power plants."

State Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas, R-Alma, has been a leader in opposition to the project. B̶u̶t̶ ̶s̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶a̶i̶d̶ ̶W̶e̶d̶n̶e̶s̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶s̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶m̶i̶x̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶i̶n̶g̶s̶ ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶s̶u̶e̶.̶ She said Wednesday that she remains totally against the project.*

On one hand, she said she saw little chance for opponents to fight Clean Line and the government against the project, comparing it to David taking on Goliath. She said she was encouraged by the passion of the hundreds of people who spoke out against the project at public hearings across the state.

On the other hand, a letter Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sent to Moniz last week gave her cause to mistrust Clean Line and the government.

Cotton's letter told Moniz of reports that Clean Line was paying the salaries of the Energy Department employees handling the company's application before the department. Cotton's letter said a representative from Clean Line estimated the company is paying employees between $10,000 and $1 million a month.

NW News on 11/05/2015

*CORRECTION: State Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas, R-Alma, said she did not have mixed feelings about the Clean Line Energy Partners power line transmission project and remains totally against the project. Her comments about the project were unclear in this article.

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