PUCT awaiting request to modify CREZ line

The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) is awaiting a request to modify the route of a competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) transmission line being built in Eastland County, Texas, by Lone Star Transmission (PUCT Docket No. 38230).

As previously reported by TransmissionHub, parties on Oct. 9 reached a tentative agreement on changes that would enable the developer to move the 345-kV power line out of the flight path of a proposed airport.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a done deal,” Eastland County Attorney Bob Bass told TransmissionHub Oct. 17.

However, while officials with Lone Star Transmission characterized the development as a significant step toward a reroute, they emphasized that the agreement had not been finalized.

A week later, the PUCT still has not received any request associated with that potential rerouting.

“In these CREZ projects, [the PUCT order] gives permission for what are called minor deviations,” a PUCT spokesperson told TransmissionHub Oct. 17. “However, that [applies] only if there is consent from all affected landowners.”

Many states permit minor route adjustments, or deviations, for powerlines, but the definition of “minor” is often non-specific.

In this case, the PUCT’s order said, “Lone Star shall be permitted to deviate from the approved routes … in any instance in which the deviation would be more than a minor deviation, but only if Lone Star receives consent from all of the landowners who would be affected.”

There are other provisions that must also be met.

“Any agreed minor deviations shall not delay the project beyond its commission-required completion date, nor shall any minor deviation add any significant cost to the project,” according to the order authorizing the 330-mile project.

In this case, the proposed realignment would add almost three miles to the length of the line and shift the alignment several miles to the south of the PUCT-approved path, according to a map of the proposed reroute posted on the web site of a group advocating for the realignment.

In its annual compliance filing in January, Lone Star provided an updated cost estimate of $789.3m for the project, approximately $2.39m per mile, meaning the potential addition of more than $7m to the total project cost.

Whether the PUCT will determine a three-mile reroute “minor” or a cost increase of $7m “significant” remains to be seen.

“Nothing has been filed at the PUC, so it’s not clear how significant the deviation is, or what any agreement is,” the spokesperson said.

The dispute over the route dates to 2009, when the PUCT ordered Lone Star to build the line from Scurry County to Navarro County. As with all CREZ lines, the route for the Lone Star line was determined by the PUCT and would have taken the line across Wilks Ranch.

Ranch owners reportedly did not participate in the administrative proceeding that determined the route of the line. However, in subsequent court proceedings protesting the alignment, ranch owners pointed to a proposed regional airport they said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved in 2007 but which had been put on hold because of the economy.

In July 2011, Eastland County formed an airport commission, which adopted an airport hazard zoning ordinance shortly after its formation. The ranch owners subsequently cited that zoning ordinance as a reason the line should be rerouted.

Lone Star countered with a suit challenging the legality of the ordinance. The suit asserted that Wilks Ranch’s claims conflicted with the PUCT’s final order regarding the CREZ lines, and that Wilks Ranch lacked standing to enforce the airport hazard-zoning ordinance.

That suit is still pending.

Lone Star Transmission is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE).