A proposal for decision signed on July 13 by two administrative law judges (ALJs) of the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) regarding a proposed 138-kV transmission line will be considered by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas at the open meeting scheduled on Aug. 17, according to a July 13 document to all parties of record.
The deadline for filing exceptions to the proposal for decision is July 24, while the deadline for filing responses to exceptions is Aug. 7, according to the document.
As noted in the proposal for decision, Electric Transmission Texas (ETT) and American Electric Power’s (NYSE:AEP) AEP Texas North Company (TNC) (AEP Texas) last August filed an application with the PUC to amend their certificates of convenience and necessity (CCN) for the proposed line and a “cut-in” of an existing 69-kV line in McCulloch and Menard counties in Texas.
The project would begin at the new AEP Texas Heartland substation, to be built near FM 2309 southeast of the City of Brady, and would extend to the southwest, terminating at the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation, located on U.S. Highway 83 in the City of Menard. The proposed Heartland to Yellowjacket line would be designed and built as a 138-kV transmission line and would be initially operated at 69 kV, the ALJs added in their proposal for decision.
The project also includes a new extension of the existing AEP Texas Mason to North Brady 69-kV transmission line into the new Heartland substation, the ALJs said, adding that that extension into the Heartland substation is referred to as a “cut-in” of the existing line. That new cut-in of the existing Mason to North Brady line would result in a Heartland to North Brady transmission line. The ALJs also said that the existing 69-kV extension of the Mason to North Brady line into the South Brady substation would become the South Brady to Heartland to Mason 69-kV transmission line. That cut-in configuration results in the creation of two separate 69-kV transmission sources into the new Heartland substation, the ALJs said.
The area traversed by the alternative routes (study area) being evaluated for the project is oriented in an east-to-west direction from Brady in McCulloch County in the eastern portion of the study area to Menard in Menard County in the western portion. The ALJs added that the eastern portion of the study area is located in the Central Texas Uplift region and includes the new AEP Texas Heartland substation and the City of Brady, while the western portion of the study area is located in the Edwards Plateau region and includes the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation and the City of Menard.
The study area is primarily rural with residential development concentrated in the cities of Brady and Menard, the ALJs said, noting that the predominant land use within the study area is rangeland and pastureland. Most of the study area has been impacted by land improvements associated with agriculture, residential structures, roadways, oil and gas activities, as well as various utility corridors, the ALJs said.
The companies have agreed to each own one-half of the new 138-kV transmission line, with AEP Texas to own the eastern half of the new line connected to the new AEP Texas Heartland substation, and ETT to own the western half of the new line connected to the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation.
Upon final approval of a route, the midpoint of the line would be determined and that would be the change of ownership point, the ALJs added, noting that with regard to the cut-in of the North Brady segment of the existing AEP Texas Mason to North Brady 69-kV transmission line into the new AEP Texas Heartland substation, the application seeks to amend only the certificate of AEP Texas for that cut-in segment.
The project would be built using single-pole steel or concrete structures, and typical structures would range in height between 90 feet and 110 feet above grade, the ALJs said, adding that the length of right of way (ROW) for all 25 alternative routes filed by the companies range from about 34.8 miles for Route 5 to about 43.53 miles for Route 18. The project would be single-circuit construction, and therefore, the number of miles of circuit is the same as the number of miles of ROW.
The evidence establishes that the project is necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience, and safety of the public and is the best option to connect to distribution facilities, the ALJs said, noting that no party offered any evidence to dispute the need for the project, and that regulatory staff agrees that the project is needed.
The need for a third transmission source to the Brady area was demonstrated during an area outage event in August 2013, when both 69-kV transmission line sources to the area were out of service due to a weather-related event, leaving about 9,000 customers without power for about 18 hours, the ALJs said.
The ALJs also noted that ERCOT has determined that a new 138-kV capable transmission line – initially operated at 69 kV – from the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation is required to address reliability issues in the Brady area and to provide additional transmission capacity for future electrical load growth.
The ALJs noted that as a result of the parties’ positions, evidence admitted in the case, and consideration of certain requirements, the main focus of the case became a comparison of Routes 5 and 16 – and potential variations of those routes – with the companies determining that Route 16 best addressed certain requirements. Certain intervenors and a newly affected landowner found acceptable certain adjustments that result in a variation of Route 16, referred to as 16R, the ALJs noted, adding that an additional variation of Route 16 was proposed by intervenors in the eastern portion of the route to accommodate a landowner’s preference near the new AEP Texas Heartland substation and is referred to as 16M.
The companies formulated a combined version of the Route 16R concept and Route 16M in order to form the Route 16MR, which the ALJs recommend that the PUC approve. As compared to Route 16R, Route 16MR is less costly and incorporates changes requested by landowners whose property would be impacted by the variations of Route 16, the ALJs added.
Route 16MR is estimated to cost about $39.6m, or 8% less expensive than the most expensive route, and 7% more expensive than the cheapest route, the ALJs said.
The estimated cost of the new AEP Texas Heartland substation is about $4.8m, and the new facilities required for the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation are estimated at about $1m, the ALJs said, adding that the cost of the North Brady cut-in is estimated to be $575,000 as a second circuit on a 69/138-kV double-circuit line into the AEP Texas Heartland substation, or $971,000 if built as a separate 69-kV line.
Route 16MR has the least number of miles of ROW within the foreground visual zone of roadways and parks/recreational areas, and therefore performs best on the aesthetic values evaluation criterion, for instance, the ALJs said.
Route 16MR parallels apparent property lines for 6.1 miles, or 16.3% of its length, the ALJs said, adding, “Maximizing the line’s length along property boundary lines is a strongly held community value, with which Route 16MR is the most consistent of all the routes in contention.”
As TransmissionHub reported, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has recommended that "the PUC select a route that would minimize adverse impacts to natural resources, such as Alternative Route 5."
The ALJs said in their proposal for decision that TPWD’s recommendation is based solely on potential impacts to natural resources and does not take into account numerous additional routing criteria. If construction activities are anticipated to impact federally listed species or their habitats or impact jurisdictional waters of the United States, the companies would coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, respectively, regarding permitting and any required mitigation, the ALJs said.
Construction of the proposed line is not anticipated to have significant impacts to wildlife and fisheries within the study area, and it is not anticipated to have any significant adverse effects on any state or federally listed threatened or endangered plant species, the ALJs said.
Among other things, the ALJs said that should the companies or their contractors encounter any artifacts or other cultural resources during project construction, then work is to cease immediately in the vicinity of the resource, and the discovery is to be reported to the THC. Also, the companies are to use best management practices to minimize the potential impact to migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, the ALJs said. Furthermore, the companies are to update the reporting of the project on their monthly construction progress report before the start of construction to reflect the final estimated cost and schedule, the ALJs said.