The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) on Nov. 5 recommended that the Public Utility Commission of Texas select a route for Oncor Electric Delivery Company’s proposed Owl Hills to Tunstill Point of Delivery (POD) 138-kV Transmission Line Project that would minimize adverse impacts to natural resources, such as Alternative Route 15.
Of the routes evaluated in an environmental assessment (EA), Alternative Route 15 appears to best minimize adverse impacts to natural resources while also maintaining a shorter route length, the TPWD said.
As noted by the TPWD, Oncor proposes to build the new line from the proposed Owl Hills substation in Culberson County to the existing Tunstill POD – under construction – in Reeves County. The proposed Owl Hills substation is to be located west of United States (US) Highway 285 near the Culberson County/Reeves County line, while the Tunstill POD is located near the Pecos River northeast of the community of Orla.
The TPWD added that the proposed project would be about 18 to 24 miles long, depending on which route is selected by the commission. For the proposed project, Oncor anticipates the use of a self-supporting, double-circuit steel or concrete pole; the typical structure height would be 85 feet, but pole height would vary depending upon terrain. The TPWD also said that the proposed right of way (ROW) width for the project would be about 70 feet.
Oncor retained Halff Associates to identify and evaluate alternative routes, as well as to prepare an EA and alternative route analysis report to support its application for a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN). The TPWD added that for the proposed project, Halff evaluated 54 preliminary alternative routes and considered 35 routing criteria addressing factors such as land use, aesthetics, and potential environmental impacts for each of the alternative routes. Oncor then evaluated the routes and selected 25 alternative routes to be filed with the CCN application. The TPWD also said that Oncor selected Route 15 as the route that best meets certain requirements. As noted in the filing, Route 15:
- Is about one mile longer than the shortest alternative routes – routes 50 and 52
- Is about 18.7 miles long, which is about 2.4 miles shorter than the longest alternative route included in the application
- Is estimated to cost about $20.6m, which is about $6.4m less than the most expensive alternative route – Route 37 – and $92,000 more than the least expensive alternative route – Route 50
- Has no habitable structures within the proposed ROW, nor within 300 feet of its centerline – there are no habitable structures within 300 feet of the centerline on any of the filed routes
- Parallels existing compatible corridors, including existing transmission lines, public roads and highways, railroads, and apparent property boundaries, for about 21% of its length
- Crosses no parks/recreational areas and does not have any parks/recreational areas within 1,000 feet of its centerline
- Crosses no recorded cultural resource sites or has any cultural resources within 1,000 feet of its centerline
TPWD also said that the decision to recommend Route 15 was based primarily on such factors as that the route:
- Has the shortest length through pasture/rangeland at 12.5 miles
- Does not cross any upland woodlands
- Does not cross any potential wetlands
- Crosses 272 feet of open water – lakes, ponds
- Contains the fewest number of stream crossings at four stream crossings
- Does not run parallel – within 100 feet – to any streams or rivers
Discussing construction recommendations, the TPWD said that to prevent electrocution of perching birds, it recommends utilizing avian-safe designs that provide appropriate separation between two energized phases or between an energized phase and grounded equipment.
Also, 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), which prohibits direct and affirmative purposeful actions that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control, except when specifically authorized by the Department of the Interior.
The TPWD added that it recommends excluding vegetation clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March 15 through Sept. 15, to avoid adverse impacts to breeding birds.
Another recommendation calls for having a permitted biologist survey the commission-selected route for any Texas horned lizard that may be in the area that is proposed for disturbance. The TPWD added that if the commission-selected route cannot avoid suitable habitat of the Texas horned lizard, then the TPWD recommends a permitted biological monitor be present during clearing and construction activities to relocate Texas horned lizards encountered during construction.
Among other things, the TPWD recommended surveying the commission-selected route for potential bat habitat, and that surveys should be conducted by a qualified biologist to determine roost site potential and occupancy. If bats are present or recent signs of occupation are observed, the TPWD said that it recommends that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that bats are not harmed, such as implementing non-lethal exclusion activities or timing or phasing of construction.