The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, in an order signed on June 6 by the commissioners, granted LCRA Transmission Services Corporation’s application, as modified by the order, to amend its certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) for the Leander to Round Rock 138-kV transmission line in Williamson County.
The project is needed to serve load growth within southwestern Williamson County, and the ERCOT Board of Directors has recommended the project to support the reliability of the ERCOT regional transmission system in that area, the PUC said.
The PUC noted that the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) administrative law judges (ALJs) on March 22 issued a proposal for decision recommending that the PUC grant LCRA’s application and approve the use of route “COL-1.”
The PUC said that it does not adopt the proposal for decision’s route recommendation, and instead approves route “LHO-1.” The PUC said that it otherwise adopts the proposal for decision, except as discussed in its order.
Route LHO-1, which has an estimated cost of about $74.5m, has fewer habitable structures within 300 feet of the centerline than does route COL-1, which has an estimated cost of about $69.3m, the PUC said, adding that route LHO-1 also avoids Williamson County Regional Park, and will therefore have a smaller impact on the community’s enjoyment of local parks.
Furthermore, the PUC said, route LHO-1 parallels Ronald Reagan Blvd., for much of its length, unlike route COL-1, which parallels County Road (CR) 175. Ronald Reagan Blvd., is a significant retail and commercial corridor, with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour and a road right of way (ROW) of 200 to 400 feet, while CR 175 uses a road ROW of 64 to 130 feet, the PUC said.
“The commission finds that Ronald Reagan Blvd. is generally more compatible with the routing of a transmission line than CR 175,” the PUC said. “Finally, … the commission finds that the agreement reached by the cities of Leander, Cedar Park, and Round Rock to support route COL-1 is not a reflection of community values, and that the ALJs erred in assigning that agreement significant weight.”
Discussing route adequacy, the PUC said that it finds that LCRA’s application was sufficient and that LCRA provided an adequate number of reasonably differentiated alternative routes between the only two endpoints that were included in the application. However, the failure of LCRA to provide more than two possible endpoints in such a developed area unnecessarily limited the PUC’s options, the PUC said.
LCRA’s application included only one eastern connection point – Oncor’s existing Round Rock substation, the PUC said, adding that LCRA provided no evidence that it was electrically necessary for it to connect to the existing Round Rock substation as opposed to the other substations in the area, or taps on an existing transmission line.
Discussing the cities’ agreement and community values, the PUC noted that the ALJs’ main justification for weighing the cities’ agreement so heavily was their estimation that the agreement was an accurate reflection of the community values of the signatory cities. The ALJs also analogized the cities’ agreement to landowner agreements in previous PUC dockets that the PUC has looked to as the basis for adopting an agreed route, the PUC said.
The PUC noted, however, that the agreement was not the result of a give-and-take process between parties with disparate interests of the sort the PUC has generally favored in the past. Noting that the cities’ agreement did not include all parties in the case, the PUC said that the agreement is more akin to a non-unanimous stipulation opposed by multiple parties, including, in this docket, PUC staff.
Furthermore, the PUC said that since many of the residents who would be affected by the PUC’s selection of COL-1 are not residents – or have only recently become residents – of the municipalities that signed the agreement, any assertion that the agreement represented the community values of the totality of the residents potentially affected by the routing of the line is insufficiently supported by the evidence.
Two of the community values expressed by attendees of the open house meetings held by LCRA included maximizing distances from residences and maximizing distances from parks and recreational areas, the PUC said, adding that it finds that when the cities’ agreement is weighed appropriately, community values favor using route LHO-1, which affects fewer habitable structures than route COL-1 and avoids the Williamson County Regional Park entirely.
Among other things, the PUC said that in the event that LCRA or its contractors encounter any archaeological artifacts or other cultural resources during construction of the project, then LCRA is to cease work immediately in the vicinity of the resource and report the discovery to the THC.
Also, LCRA is to cooperate with directly affected landowners to implement minor deviations in the approved route to minimize the impact of the project. The PUC added that LCRA is to minimize the amount of flora and fauna disturbed during construction of the project, except to the extent necessary to establish appropriate ROW clearance for the line. The PUC also said that LCRA is exercise extreme care to avoid affecting non-targeted vegetation or animal life when using chemical herbicides for controlling vegetation within the ROW and such herbicide use is to comply with certain rules and guidelines.