Arkansas' delegation in D.C. seeks block of power-line plan, cites changes in project that would cross state

WASHINGTON -- Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation asked U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to block plans for a power line across the state, arguing that recent setbacks make it unlikely that the project can proceed.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported earlier this month that the $2.5 billion project had stalled, with a key public utility declining to purchase the wind-generated power.

In a letter Tuesday, delegation members said recent Clean Line business developments had fundamentally changed the project. The delegation urged the department to either "pause or terminate" the project.

Clean Line Energy Partners' project would ship wind-generated electricity from the Oklahoma panhandle to Tennessee, cutting across Arkansas.

The Plains & Eastern Clean Line project would span more than 700 miles, entering Arkansas just north of Van Buren and exiting the state south of Wilson in Mississippi County, if the preferred route is adopted.

It would carry 4,000 megawatts, enough power to supply 1 million homes, supporters say. A converter station in Pope County would enable up to 500 megawatts of the power to be delivered to Arkansas customers.

The Houston-based company developing the power line sold the Oklahoma portion of the project to NextEra Energy Resources in December.

NextEra did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The Energy Department, during the presidency of Barack Obama, had agreed to partner with Clean Line on the project, arguing that the line was "necessary to accommodate an actual or projected increase in demand for electric transmission capacity."

Using powers contained in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the department moved the project forward over the objections of Arkansas leaders.

Among other things, the law would enable the use of eminent domain to obtain property from unwilling sellers.

But the participation agreement allows the department to back out of the deal if "the Commencement Date has not occurred by December 31, 2018."

In the letter, delegation members urged Perry to "pause the Project to either study or terminate its participation before the deadline."

Since it was unveiled, the power line project has generated controversy.

Supporters say the project would create jobs, reduce carbon emissions and diversify the nation's energy supply.

Arkansas government officials and many landowners along the path have opposed construction of the project, saying it would be an eyesore, lower property values, endanger migratory waterfowl and force landowners to sell property against their will.

The project also faced opposition from some Tennessee lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. In a Senate speech last year, the Republican called the wind-power project "expensive and unreliable" and urged the Tennessee Valley Authority not to commit to purchasing Clean Line's power.

Last month, Clean Line ended its interconnection agreement with the nation's largest public power utility. The TVA had studied the possibility of purchasing the wind-generated power but ultimately declined to do so.

In an interview with the Times Free Press, Clean Line President Michael Skelly said TVA's "lack of interest has certainly not been helpful."

Noting the lack of an interconnection agreement, Arkansas delegation members said in their letter, "It is reasonable to conclude the Project's ultimate delivery of energy is not expected to occur for at least several more years."

A spokesman for the Clean Line company said Tuesday that the project has been delayed, but not abandoned. The company declined to comment on the lawmakers' letter.

"Clean Line is committed to the Plains & Eastern Clean Line and maintains ownership of the project assets in Arkansas and Tennessee. We are, however, slowing down preconstruction efforts in Arkansas and Tennessee," spokesman Sarah Bray said in an email. "Before moving forward, we need market conditions in the Southeast to improve, as well as more commercial interest in the project."

A Section on 01/24/2018

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