Construction resumes on contested CREZ line in Eastland County, Texas

Construction has resumed on a portion of a competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) transmission line in Eastland County, Texas, that had been the subject of a lengthy dispute stemming from the line route’s proximity to the flight paths for a proposed regional airport (PUCT Docket No. 38230).

The line’s developer, Lone Star Transmission, adjusted the path and resumed construction on a portion of the West Shackelford-to-Navarro/Sam Switch line after obtaining the consent of some 19 landowners affected by the new alignment.

“We have all the regulatory i’s dotted and t’s crossed that we need,” Mike Grable, president of Lone Star Transmission, told TransmissionHub on Jan. 23. “”The [Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT)] has spoken to a reroute of this type and has said, ‘You have the blessing to go ahead and do it so long as you get landowner consent.’”

The dispute over the project’s 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, the site of a proposed regional airport 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. Lone Star countered with a suit challenging the legality of the ordinance, asserting 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.

After more than a year of negotiations and discussions, Eastland County commissioners set the stage for resumption of the project in October 2012 when they approved the developer’s request that would allow the 345-kV power line to cross county roads at four different points. That approval enabled the developer to route the line away from the airport site.

The certificate docket that set the original routing contains language allowing for deviation from the approved routes for “minor deviations and even more than minor deviations if we receive consent from the affected landowners,” Grable said.

The PUCT’s order also allowed deviation from the approved route because the rerouting was the result of a directive from a local government agency; in this case, the Eastland County airport commission’s hazard zoning ordinance. The owners of the ranch on which the airport is planned subsequently cited that zoning ordinance as a reason the line should be rerouted.

Construction along the new path only adds about two miles to the project’s length, according to Grable, and will “slightly increase the [total project] cost, but by a very reasonable and manageable amount,” he said.

In addition, Grable said, the extra work should not affect the project’s expected in-service date, which is in mid-March.

Staying on time and on budget are important for Lone Star to remain in compliance with provisions included in the PUCT’s original order. That document said, “[A]ny 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.”

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