JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
On Tuesday, about 50 opponents of a large transmission line proposed for construction in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas rallied in Rogers, Ark., during the 40th annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
The group’s purpose, according to Save the Ozarks director Pat Costner, was to raise awareness of the power line’s potential impact and also to support a campaign by a grass-roots group to protect the Buffalo National River from pollution from hog farming.
“It’s all karst terrain that will be impacted,” Costner said. “In karst terrain, you need to manage human activity quite carefully.”
Most in attendance were clad in orange Save the Ozarks T-shirts and held signs protesting the Southwestern Electric Power Co. line. At least one Missouri landowner, Jamie Harvey, participated, in addition to a group of musicians from Eureka Springs, Ark.
Despite not being allowed on the hotel grounds — the group gathered on the sidewalk and street — Costner said Save the Ozarks considered it a “good turnout and a success.”
“It was very upbeat,” she said. “I think we got the point across.”
The rally came just days after a Missouri House panel heard testimony about the controversial transmission line, 25 miles of which would pass through McDonald and Barry counties. An additional 31 miles of the line would be in Benton and Carroll counties in Northwest Arkansas. The line would cross more than 160 properties in Southwest Missouri and a similar number in Northwest Arkansas.
Kevin Reeves, managing director of energy trading and marketing at American Electric Power, testified last week in Jefferson City against bills moving through the General Assembly.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, has presented two bills to the House Utilities Committee in an attempt to block construction of the transmission line in Missouri.
An administrative law judge for the Arkansas Public Service Commission ruled earlier this year that the power line for American Electric’s operating company, Southwestern Electric Power Co., known as SWEPCO, should take the northernmost of several proposed routes — through Southwest Missouri — before dipping back down into Arkansas.
One of Fitzpatrick’s bills, House Bill 1774, would restrict SWEPCO’s ability to use eminent domain to build the transmission line. The other, HB 1622, would remove the authority of the Missouri Public Service Commission to approve the line.
“To me, it is pretty apparent that the Arkansas PSC’s decision was motivated by the fact that the line gets outside of Arkansas and they don’t have to deal with as many of their constituents down there,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview last week.
But Reeves said his company began developing plans for a transmission line when the Southwest Power Pool — of which SWEPCO is a member — identified deficiencies in the regional electric grid. The Southwest Power Pool operates the electric grid in nine states, and is required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable electric supply and transmission infrastructure. The Southwest Power Pool mandated that SWEPCO build the high-voltage transmission line to provide power to fast-growing Northwest Arkansas, and it has ordered that the line be in service by June 1, 2016.
SWEPCO ultimately proposed six routes to the Arkansas PSC, Reeves told the committee, and five of them passed entirely through Northwest Arkansas. The Army Corps of Engineers rejected three of the proposed routes because they passed over Beaver Lake, he said. Some of the routes were highly contested because of their potential impact on tourism and historic sites in Northwest Arkansas, including Pea Ridge National Military Park and Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs.
Route 109 — the one that passes through Missouri — was the one chosen by the Arkansas administrative judge.
It was the one that SWEPCO preferred the least, Reeves said.
Part of the reason the company had hoped to not use Route 109, he said, was the complicated regulatory procedure involved, requiring approval from utility regulators in two states. The company has not yet filed a case with the Missouri Public Service Commission.
“Nothing that the Arkansas PSC does can compel the state of Missouri to do anything,” Reeves said at the hearing.
Reeves also said that while Missouri residents would not benefit directly from the power, the project would mean improved reliability for utilities that serve Southwest Missouri, including Empire District Electric Co., in Joplin, City Utilities, in Springfield, and rural electric cooperatives.
“A large, 345-kilovolt project like this one is intended by the Southwest Power Pool to correct overloads in the system that can impact multiple points in the grid. Those points can be in Arkansas and Missouri,” said Peter Main, SWEPCO spokesman. “The overloads that this project will correct are issues of reliability for both states, because transmission lines are shared by multiple utilities.”
SWEPCO officials also said the project could boost property taxes in the two Missouri counties by $2.5 million annually because of improvements, and could involve $47 million in construction for the two counties.
But Fitzpatrick wasn’t convinced.
“I’ve been looking and haven’t found another line that started and ended in a single state, but crossed through Missouri,” Fitzpatrick said. He said some other electric lines in the state may cut a corner from time to time, but none deviate so far from a straight line to cut a loop into Missouri.