Administrative law judges (ALJs) on March 22 filed a proposal for decision with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, recommending the selection of Route COL-1 in relation to LCRA Transmission Services Corporation’s (TSC) proposed Leander to Round Rock 138-kV Transmission Line Project.
As noted in the ALJs’ filing, the new double-circuit capable line would connect two new substations – Substation 1 and Substation 2 – to the electric grid at the existing Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) Leander substation and the existing Oncor Electric Delivery Company Round Rock substation.
LCRA TSC would install one circuit initially and would install the second circuit at a later date, the ALJs said, adding that LCRA TSC is seeking certification and approval for both circuits.
LCRA TSC identified 31 primary alternative routes in its application, as well as 16 potential substation sites. While LCRA TSC considered all of those routes to be viable and constructible, it identified Route 31 as the route that best meets the statutory and rule criteria, the ALJs added.
Route COL-1 – as well as Routes 29 and 31 – exits the Leander substation in the northwest corner of the project area and runs in an easterly direction before turning south on County Road (CR) 175, and then west on Farm to Market Road (FM) 1431 towards IH-35, before turning south again to meet up with the Round Rock substation in the southeast corner of the project area.
The ALJs said that Route COL-1 – which parallels compatible right of way (ROW) for about 85% of its length – best balances the statutory and rule factors, and has several advantages over other routes. Importantly, the ALJs said, the cities of Leander, Cedar Park, and Round Rock worked together to develop a route that is agreeable to all of them, with each city compromising to come to an agreement that the cities’ officials determined best reflects the cities’ community values.
As TransmissionHub reported, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in July 13, 2016, comments filed with the PUC, said that it selected Alternative Route 29 as the alternative route that best minimizes impacts to natural resources in connection to LCRA TSC’s proposed project. With that being said, the TPWD noted that it believes that the study area contains a significant number of environmental issues and every route evaluated would have a negative impact on the state’s fish and wildlife resources.
The ALJs noted in their filing that regulatory staff initially supported Route 3M, which has an estimated total cost of $83.8m, and a length of more than 20 miles. Route COL-1 has a cost of $69.3m, and a length of 13.77 miles. The ALJs added that staff now supports Route LHO-1, which has a cost of $74.5m, and a length of 14.76 miles.
There was no overall consensus regarding the best route for the project, the ALJs said, noting that the primary area of disagreement – whether the line should generally follow Ronald Reagan Boulevard or CR 175 – demonstrates the tension between locating the line in an area that is already being densely developed with commercial properties and residential subdivisions, or locating the line along a smaller road where development has started but is not as dense.
Supporters of COL-1 oppose running the line down Ronald Reagan Boulevard – much of which is designated by the City of Leander as a commercial development area – because of the large amount of planned and ongoing development on the road, the ALJs said.
Since the line would be built in a densely populated area, all routes pass within 300 feet of a large number of habitable structures, the ALJs added. Over 900 persons and entities intervened in the proceeding. The ALJs also said that regardless of the various parties’ positions on the desirability of growth, the urbanization of central Texas, increased traffic, housing density, and other issues related to population growth, the area has changed dramatically over the last decades.
“With the increased population comes a need for a reliable power supply,” the ALJs said. “The current electric infrastructure cannot support the additional growth this area is experiencing.”
The evidence establishes that the project is necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience, as well as safety of the public, and no party challenged the need for the project, the ALJs said. The project is needed to meet the existing and forecast retail electric service demand of customers in rapidly growing southwestern Williamson County, and to address reliability risks associated with continuing to serve the area’s electric load requirements using the existing load-serving substations, the ALJs said.
PEC forecasts that the total electric demand for the southwestern Williamson County area will reach 486 MW by 2020, or 1.22 times the demand for electricity in 2014 for that area, amounting to a 4.34% annual growth rate.
The ALJs also said that all routes under consideration have parks and recreational areas within 1,000 feet of the centerline, with Route COL-1 having 17 parks and recreational areas within 1,000 feet of its centerline. Also, Route COL-1 has one recorded historic or prehistoric site crossed by the ROW and 11 additional recorded historic or prehistoric sites within 1,000 feet of the centerline of the ROW.
The ALJs further noted that each of the considered routes has the potential to impact threatened and endangered species, including two federally listed songbirds – the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. Among the preferred routes, Routes COL-1 and 31 – which would cost about $71.2m – cross the least amount of modeled golden-cheeked warbler habitat with about zero acres, the ALJs said.
Among other things, the ALJs said that LCRA TSC is to minimize the amount of flora and fauna disturbed during project construction, except to the extent necessary to establish appropriate ROW clearance for the line. Also, LCRA TSC is to cooperate with directly affected landowners to implement minor deviations in the approved route to minimize the impact of the project, the ALJs said.