Administrative law judges (ALJs) with the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), in an April 10 proposal for decision, recommended that the Public Utility Commission of Texas approve the route preferred by Oncor Electric Delivery Company and AEP Texas Inc. – Route 320 – for the proposed 345-kV, double-circuit transmission line in Pecos, Reeves, and Ward counties in Texas.
The ALJs said that they also recommend an agreed modification to a corner of Link B2 on Route 320, which would reduce the number of habitable structures that otherwise would be within 500 feet of the centerline of that link on Route 320. The modification to Link B2 would reduce the number of affected habitable structures from 38 to about 26. The ALJs also said that the modification to Link B2 does not require additional landowner consents because the modification is made on property owned by Plains Pipeline, which has agreed to that modification.
As noted in the filing, the companies in November 2018 filed with the commission an application to amend their certificates of convenience and necessity (CCNs) for the proposed line.
The project consists of building a new transmission line on double-circuit, 345-kV, lattice steel tower structures, extending from Oncor’s Sand Lake switch station in Ward County to AEP Texas’ Solstice switch station in Pecos County.
The ALJs also noted that Route 320 – including the modification to Link B2 – is a fully noticed route that does not require additional landowner consents. COG Operating LLC (Concho) and the group of intervenors referred to as Oxy strongly oppose Route 320 and instead prefer – in this order – Route 325, Route 325 Modified, and Route 320 Modified, the ALJs said.
As of the date the record closed in this docket on March 19, however, Concho and Oxy had not obtained landowner consents for all of their proposed modifications to either Routes 325 or 320, the ALJs said, adding that if Concho and Oxy had been able to obtain all landowner consents for their proposed modifications to Route 320, the ALJs would likely recommend that the commission approve Route 320 Modified, which would then have the support of most active parties. However, the ALJs added, because of the lack of all landowner consents, they recommend approval of Route 320.
Discussing the project, the ALJs noted that Oncor in February 2018 submitted a suite of projects known as Far West Texas Project 2 to ERCOT, which separately reviewed and approved a variation of Far West Texas Project 2 to include the Sand Lake-to-Solstice Project, with the ERCOT Board of Directors endorsing the project in June 2018 as “critical to reliability.”
The project is needed to support load growth in the area; to address reliability violations under ERCOT reliability criteria and NERC reliability standards; as well as to provide the infrastructure necessary to facilitate future transmission system expansion and generation development, the ALJs said.
The project would require a typical right of way (ROW) width of about 160 feet, and the centerline would be located in approximately the center of the ROW, the ALJs said, adding that the companies have not yet acquired any of the ROW for the project.
As noted in the filing, Route 320 is 44.5 miles long; has a cost of about $98.2m; and 38 habitable structures within 500 feet of the centerline. Route 325, for instance, is 53.7 miles long; has a cost of about $116.4m; and 37 habitable structures within 500 feet of the centerline. The filing further stated, for instance, that Route 320 has 63 feet through known habitat of endangered or threatened species, while Route 325 has 10,532 feet through known habitat of endangered or threatened species.
The primary preference of Oxy and Concho is Route 325 Modified, the ALJs said, adding that Oxy and Concho oppose Route 320 because it traverses densely packed oil and gas production properties. The ALJs said that Route 325 Modified avoids much of that corridor. Commission staff supports Route 41 because it has the fewest number of habitable structures within 500 feet of the route centerline, the ALJs said. As noted in the filing, Route 41 is 45.7 miles long and has a cost of about $99.8m.
Among other things, the ALJs said that the authority granted by the order is limited to a period of seven years from the date that the order is signed unless the line is commercially energized before that time. Also, the ALJs said, if the companies or their contractors encounter any archaeological artifacts or other cultural resources during project construction, work must cease immediately in the vicinity of the artifact or resource, and the discovery must be reported to the Texas Historical Commission.