Administrative law judges (ALJs), in a proposal for decision filed with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, concluded that among the routes contained in an application by LCRA Transmission Services Corporation (TSC) for a proposed 345-kV transmission line, “Route 10M” is preferred, taking into account all of the PUC’s routing criteria.
Among all 19 possible routes identified in the application and by the parties in the case, Route 10M is the least expensive route, requires the least amount of new right of way (ROW), and affects the fewest number of habitable structures, the proposed order said.
In a July 22 letter to the director of Commission Advising and Docket Management, the ALJs requested that the case be placed on an open meeting agenda for the PUC’s consideration. While the original deadline by which the PUC must make a decision on the application was Aug. 26, LCRA TSC has agreed to move the deadline to Sept. 10.
As noted in the proposal for decision, LCRA in March filed with the PUC an application to amend its certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) for the proposed Zorn to Marion 345-kV Transmission Line in Guadalupe County, Texas.
The ERCOT Board of Directors has formally designated the project as critical to reliability.
The overall project includes the installation of the 345-kV circuit from the existing LCRA Zorn substation to the existing LCRA Marion substation, the proposed order added. The portion of the project between the Zorn substation and the vicinity of the existing LCRA Clear Springs substation will use the previously certificated open 345-kV position between Zorn and Clear Springs. The portion of the project from the vicinity of the Clear Springs substation to the Marion substation involves construction of new 345-kV double-circuit capable structures, with the continuation of the circuit from Zorn to Marion to be installed initially and a second circuit to be installed on the new double-circuit structures between Marion and the vicinity of Clear Springs at a future date, the proposed order added.
The portion of the project to be built on new structures within new right of way (ROW) will be about 9.5 miles to 13.6 miles in length, depending on the route selected. The total circuit length of the project between the Zorn and Marion substations ranges from about 18.4 miles to 23.6 miles, depending on the route selected. The route alternatives under construction in the proceeding range in estimated total cost from about $46m to about $62m, the proposed order added.
The administrative law judges recommend that the PUC approve “Route 10M” as the route that best addresses certain requirements. Route 10M has an estimated cost of about $46.8m, involves 9.5 miles of new ROW, and affects 35 habitable structures.
The proposed order added that while LCRA in its application initially identified Route 10 as the route that best addressed the PUC’s routing criteria, it now agrees with PUC staff and other intervenors that Route 10M is superior to Route 10 regarding such criteria as estimated cost, length and number of habitable structures within 500 feet of the proposed route’s centerline.
The proposed order also noted that the evidence establishes that the project is necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience and safety of the public. Specifically, the project is needed to meet the projected demand for electricity in and along the Interstate 35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin. The proposed order further noted that the project supports robust wholesale competition by enhancing the reliability of the bulk electric system connecting generation to load-serving entities.
Discussing park and recreational areas, the proposed order said that some intervenors expressed concern about the impact of the line on boating and recreational activities on the Guadalupe River. LCRA said that, due to the project endpoints, the line must cross that river at least once, but for all segments crossing the river, the line will fully span the river so that no structure will be within the river itself. Therefore, while the line will be visible to those participating in recreational activities on the river, the line will not inhibit recreational activity on the river or associated lakes.
The proposed order also noted that Route 10M does not cross any known archaeological sites and comes within 1,000 feet of two archaeological sites. LCRA and staff anticipate no significant impacts to historical or archaeological resources as the result of construction of any of the routes proposed for the project.
Regarding aesthetics, the proposed order added that Route 10M is the route with the least amount of new ROW, which will minimize its aesthetic impacts.
The ALJs find that Route 10M is also an acceptable route considering its impact to the environment. Additionally, the ALJs find that Route 10M is acceptable with regard to its impact on agriculture, with the evidence indicating that Route 10M will not unduly interfere with farming practices or grazing of farm animals.
The proposal for decision also noted that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) recommended, for instance, that LCRA prepare a mitigation plan to provide compensatory mitigation for those habitats where impacts from the line cannot be avoided or minimized, including at least a replacement ratio of 1:1 for state resource habitat types.
LCRA does not object to most of the TPWD’s recommendations, but it does object to the recommendation that a biological monitor be present during construction to relocate any state-listed species that are found because LCRA believes that the costs associated with implementing that recommendation are unwarranted.
Staff proposed certain mitigation measures to address the concerns and recommendations raised by the TPWD, as well as other concerns, including that LCRA is to exercise extreme care to avoid affecting non-targeted vegetation or animal life when using chemical herbicides to control vegetation within the ROW and such herbicide is to comply with certain rules and guidelines.
Among other things, the proposed decision added that the ALJs agree that staff’s recommended mitigation measures will reasonably address the TPWD’s, as well as other, concerns and should be included in any order issued by the PUC regarding the project.