SWEPCO line would mean $820,000 for county
State, county officials against project; legislators file bills in opposition
If the proposed Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) transmission line Route 109 is approved by the Missouri Public Services Commission, Barry County would stand to gain about $820,000 in annual property taxes.
Peter Main, spokesman for SWEPCO, said the 25.5 miles of the 345 kV line in Missouri, 8.5 miles in Barry County and 17 miles in McDonald County, would generate $2.45 million in annual property taxes for the two counties, with McDonald County receiving the remaining $1.63 million. The amount is based on what Main said is an internal estimate of assessed value along the preliminary route at a tax rate of 7 percent.
"Missouri's part is in the preliminary phase and is pending further review and regulatory approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission," he said. "There would be some property taxes incurred annually, and based on preliminary estimates, Barry County would receive $820,000."
Cherry Warren, Barry County presiding commissioner, said if the county received $820,000 in revenue each year, 75-80 percent would go to local school districts, and other portions would go to the county's roads. However, Warren said he sides with people who live in the area where the line would be placed, and those residents are against it.
"If the people down there don't want it, and that's what they've been telling us, and it does not affect the rest of the county and it only affects them, I agree with them," he said. "I will be for the landowners. If the people don't want it, I will support them."
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said he has received messages from all of McDonald County's commissioners, and they are all opposed to the line, as well. Sater's district includes Barry and McDonald counties.
"[McDonald County commissioners] are all adamant about not having it," he said. "I want to represent my constituents and what they want, and what I'm getting from most of them is that they don't want it."
Sater said he hopes the line is not approved, and he has spoken to members of the Missouri Public Service Commission about the proposal.
"The commission is independent and appointed by the governor [Jay Nixon], and it's good they are independent," he said. "When I talked to them, I wanted to make sure they were for Missouri citizens' rights, and they said they were, but that doesn't mean they will decline it. I think there will be enough complaints they will have to have public meetings in both counties, then, we'll see where it goes."
Main said the Arkansas portion of the route was approved by Connie Griffin, administrative law judge representing the Arkansas Public Service Commission, but a ruling on the Missouri portion of the route has yet to be given.
"SWEPCO was chosen to build the project by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission organization, and they have the responsibility for transmission lines across nine states, including Arkansas and Missouri," he said. "Reliability issues have led to overloads in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, and this project was planned to address those issues."
Main said while the proposed 56-mile transmission line would start and end in Arkansas, spanning through 25.5 miles of Missouri, it is connected to a transmission network serving the entire region, including residents of both states. It would require the installation of 150-foot towers every 600-800 feet.
Main said before constructing the line, if it is fully approved, SWEPCO will take input from area residents to determine the final location. Once that process ends, conversations with landowners about the acquisitions of right-of-ways to compete the project, meaning some landowners could see payment for areas they own where the line will be installed.
"We will talk to people in the area before we make the final determination and gain regulatory approval," he said.
The proposed Route 109 transmission line is being undertaken by SWEPCO, as the company was assigned to the project by the SPP, based in Little Rock, Ark., which is responsible for maintaining transmission lines for use and future needs.
The SPP has more than 75 member companies, including cooperatives, independent power producers, independent transmission companies, investor-owned companies, municipalities and state agencies that use its transmission lines. SWEPCO, one of four providers under the investor-owned American Electric Power, is one of those members and serves customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
To utilize the proposed Route 109 transmission line, a provider must be a member of the SPP. In Barry County, there are four providers who serve residents, including: Barry Electric Cooperative, Ozark Electric Cooperative of Nixa, Empire District Electric Company of Joplin, and Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation of Carroll County, Ark.
According to Bill Shiveley, general manager and chief executive officer of Barry Electric, his company does not tie into the SPP transmission lines because they are too powerful for its generators.
"We only do distribution voltage and do not do transmission," he said. "It would take quite a substantial change to our substations to support being tied into the SPP. We only operate at 7,620 volts, and they operate at 345,000 volts, so we would have to redo all of our substations."
An instance in which the Route 109 transmission line may affect Barry Electric is if there was some type of emergency requiring a SPP-member entity to associate with KAMO Power, of Vinita, Okla., or Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., of Springfield, which are the companies with which Barry Electric is associated, and gets its power.
In the event of an emergency, such as a deficit due to failed generators, a company could draw power from those two companies, lessening Barry Electric's capacity. However, it goes both ways because if Barry Electric were to experience a generator emergency, KAMO or Associated Electric could power Barry Electric by drawing from the SPP transmission lines.
Ozark Electric is under the same cooperative as Barry Electric, utilizing KAMO and Associated Electric in a like manner.
While it is unlikely for Barry Electric or Ozark Electric to see any sort of benefit from the Route 109 transmission line, Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation would, and it serves more than 3,700 Barry County residents in communities such as Shell Knob, Eagle Rock and Golden. The number of customers represent about 10.5 percent of the Barry County population of 35,546, according to the 2012 census.
Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation gets generator and transmission through the Arkansas Electric Cooperative (AEC), which is a transmission-using member of the SPP and has access to its transmission lines, which would include the proposed Route 109 line.
"[The Route 109 transmission line] would, in the long run, increase our reliability and give us a more stable grid," said Nancy Plagge, director of corporate communications with Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation. "The AEC can take power from that grid, which would then trickle down to our customers."
Empire District Electric, an investor-owned company, is also a member of the SPP and serves Barry County. According to Amy Bass, director of corporate communications, Empire has about 1,100 customers in the county around Monett and as far south as Purdy and Butterfield, and could have access to the transmission line along Route 109 if it is built, per an application to the SPP.
"That is something we would have to apply to the Power Pool to gain access to," she said. "And, I can't speculate on if an application would be accepted or not. There's also no way of knowing if we would apply."
Sater and State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, have each filed a bill in their respective bodies aimed at stopping SWEPCO from building the transmission line along Route 109.
On Feb. 6, Sater introduced Senate Bill 839, which would prohibit SWEPCO from using eminent domain in cases where a transmission line begins and ends in a state other than Missouri, while going through Barry or McDonald counties. Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use, paying the landowner its appraisal amount based on an agreement, a judge's ruling or a jury's decision.
The bill was read a second time and referred to the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on Feb. 27, and has yet to be placed on the calendar.
Sater said the bill protects his constituents' property rights and hopes it will force SWEPCO to address an Arkansas problem without crossing the state line.
Fitzpatrick filed House Bill 1622 on Jan. 30 which, if passed, would remove the Missouri Public Service Commission's authority to approve transmission line projects approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. It would give the Missouri general assembly full jurisdiction over approval of such projects.
The bill has gone through the public hearing process, which was completed on March 5, but has yet to be listed on the calendar.
On March 6, a separate bill, HB 2092, was filed in the House to address eminent domain. Filed by State Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, the bill would restrict the power of eminent domain, except for rural cooperatives, for any transmission line project consisting of lines with 345,000 volts or more, using steel monopole or lattice structures more than 90 feet high, beginning and ending in another state, and constructed within or across any portion of six or more counties in Missouri.
It has been introduced and read for the first time. No hearings on the bill have been scheduled, and it is on the calendar, House bills for second reading.
Route 109 was not the first, or preferred, route proposed by SWEPCO for the transmission line.
According to Main, Route 109 was the fifth most preferred of six proposed routes, but became the commission's chosen route after the second through fourth routes were eliminated. Route 33 was the preferred route, and due to a number of motions by intervenors, routes 62, 86 and 91 were removed, leaving routes 33, 108 and 109.
Route 33 is the most direct and shortest route, and does not enter Missouri. However, according to orders from Griffin found at the Arkansas Public Service Commission website, it was eliminated because it would pass within 800 feet of Garfield Elementary School in Garfield, Ark., which is the longest-operating elementary school in Arkansas and on the National Register of Historic Places. Coupled with the plans for a new, five-lane highway to be built in the same area, Griffin struck down the route because placing a transmission line so close to the new highway "could prohibit the development of a new commercial district in Garfield because of the restrictions on construction in the transmission line right-of-way."
Route 33 also passes through a portion of the Gateway Public Park, which was constructed in part through a grant that prohibits the placement of overhead electrical lines across the park and provides for the forfeiture of the grant funds if that prohibition is ignored, resulting in a "severe financial burden to the citizens of Gateway if the granting authority, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, demanded the return of the funds."
Griffin also mentioned that Route 33 would impact Pea Ridge National Park's cultural resources and historic landscape. The park includes one of the civil War's most intact battlefields.
Route 108, which travels through parts of Springdale, Ark. and Cave Springs, Ark., before turning north and ending at the Kings River Station, was SWEPCO's least-preferred choice. According to the order by Griffin, Route 108 has the greatest impact, as it has from 70 to more than 100 residences within 500 feet of the proposed line, and over 200 more residences with an unobstructed view of the line, the highest number of all routes. Griffin also said it may have an adverse effect on the Cave Springs recharge area adjacent to downtown Cave Springs, Ark., an area that supports a "unique and fragile cave system, in which both the United States Wildlife Service and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are actively involved in helping to protect.
Route 109, the route eventually selected, would cost more than Route 33, but less than Route 108, according to Griffin's order. It ranks equal with the other two routes on health and safety issues and disruptions to planned man-made uses, and ranks best in aesthetic displeasure.
According to the Environmental Impact Statement submitted to the Arkansas Public Service commission, Route 109 has 123 residences within 500 feet of the proposed line, and another 104 residences with an unobstructed view of the line. These are the lowest of both sets of numbers among all six lines originally proposed. According to the statement, Route 108 has 232 residences within 500 feet, and 411 more residences with an unobstructed view.
"While Route 109 is longer, it crosses more undeveloped land with larger parcels," Griffin said in the order. "As such, Route 109 has a lower residential proximity and visibility, crosses fewer parcels, and fewer major roads. Although Route 109 extends into Missouri and will require SWEPCO to obtain additional regulatory approvals from the appropriate Missouri agency, it is more reasonable than the other two routes by virtue of its lesser impact on residential areas and aesthetic impact. After weighing all these factors, I find that Route 109 is the best route."
Main also said the Environmental Impact Statement addresses the fear of homeowners being displaced, as the route is designed to avoid the company's acquisition of homes or businesses.
"None of the routes require removal of homes, and they are specifically routed to avoid that," he said. "Some homes will be in view of the line, but the route is designed to specifically avoid displacing people."
The clauses in the Environmental Impact Statement addressing the issue of homeowner removal read: "Overall, construction and operation of these proposed lines would meet the objectives for the project without having to acquire and relocate any homes or businesses, or create any significant adverse environmental impacts ... No homes are expected to be acquired, although a permanent easement for rights-of-way will be acquired."
According to Main, the easements for rights-of-way would only require use of land, not displacing any homes or businesses, and landowners will be compensated for any easement required.
Griffin said the commission has seven factors for consideration determining the line placement. Those factors include: costs of the facility, health and safety, engineering and technical concerns, ecological/environmental disruption, disruption to or interference with existing man-made property uses, disruption or interference with planned man-made property uses and aesthetic displeasure.