The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) on April 18 filed comments with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas regarding Sharyland Utilities’ proposal to add a second 166-mile circuit to an existing single circuit competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) transmission line.
As noted in the comments, Sharyland in 2013 completed the construction and energization of a 345-kV electric transmission line on private properties in Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Deaf Smith, Oldham, Potter and Swisher counties. The line was built with a single circuit on structures that can accommodate two circuits, the TPWD said.
The project would utilize the vacant position of the self-supporting, double circuit-capable lattice steel structures and monopoles within the existing 175-foot-wide right of way (ROW) of the Tule Canyon to Ogallala, Ogallala to Windmill, Windmille to AJ Swope and AJ Swope to Alibates 345-kV transmission line, the TPWD said.
The existing ROW will not be expanded, the TPWD said, adding that some additional vegetation clearing within the existing ROW may be necessary to accommodate the second circuit in some locations.
Sharyland contracted with POWER Engineers (POWER) to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) and route analysis.
Among its recommendations, the TPWD said that if migratory bird species are found nesting on or adjacent to the project area, they must be dealt with in a manner consistent with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The TPWD recommended excluding vegetation clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March through August, to avoid adverse impacts to that group. If clearing vegetation during the migratory bird nesting season is unavoidable, the TPWD said that it recommends that Sharyland survey the area proposed for disturbance to ensure that no nests with eggs or young will be disturbed by operations.
To prevent electrocution of perching birds, the TPWD recommended using avian-safe designs that provide appropriate separation between two energized phases or between an energized phase and grounded equipment. The TPWD added that it also recommends covering energized components with appropriate bird protection materials where adequate spacing cannot be achieved, such as installing insulated jumper wires, insulator covers, bushing caps and arrester caps.
The TPWD also noted that according to the EA, of the state-listed species for the project counties, only the Texas horned lizard is expected to occur within and adjacent to the project’s existing ROW. Texas horned lizards are generally active in that part of Texas from mid-April through September, and at that time of year, they may be able to avoid slow-moving equipment. The remainder of the year, the TPWD added, that species hibernates only a few inches underground and will be much more susceptible to earth-moving equipment and compaction.
The TPWD recommended avoiding disturbance of the Texas horned lizard, its burrows and colonies of its primary food source, the Harvester ant, during clearing and construction.
In addition, the TPWD noted that according to the EA, certain data and prior surveys of the existing ROW indicated the presence of several prairie dog colonies within the project area. The black-tailed prairie dog provides food and/or shelter for rare species that the TPWD tracks, including the Western burrowing owl, and as a result, certain rare species and special features – namely, prairie dog towns – could potentially be impacted by project activities.
The TPWD added that if prairie dog burrows would be disturbed as a result of the proposed project, then non-harmful exclusion methods should be used to encourage the animals to vacate the area prior to disturbance and discourage them from returning to the area during construction.
The TPWD also said that if prairie dog towns would be disturbed as a result of the proposed project, then the burrows should be surveyed for burrowing owls. The Western burying owl is protected under the MBTA and take of those birds, their nests and eggs is prohibited, the TPWD said.
Among other things, the TPWD said that it recommends that POWER and Sharyland prepare a mitigation plan to provide compensatory mitigation for those habitats where impacts from the transmission line cannot be avoided or minimized, including impacts to species and habitats covered under federal law and state resource habitat types not covered by state or federal law.