Save the Ozarks is still the winner on the big one – no SWEPCO transmission line – but gets no traction on issues of compensation and misrepresentation/misconduct by SWEPCO and its allies.
This week the Arkansas Public Service Commission issued its final ruling on SWEPCO’s attempt to get approval for the construction of an extra-high voltage transmission line across 50 miles of the Ozark Highlands. By the Commission’s Order 38 of May 20, 2015, Save the Ozarks’ last submission, a surreply accompanied by an affidavit by Dr. Hyde M. Merrill, has been stricken and removed from the record.
The now-stricken surreply and affidavit included allegations of misrepresentation and/or misconduct on the parts of SWEPCO, an investor-owned electric utility; the Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization that plans and manages the transmission lines of SWEPCO and its other members in 14 states, including part of Arkansas; and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, which supplies electricity to 17 of the state’s electric distribution cooperatives.
Order 38 comes five months after the letter from SWEPCO to the Commission announcing the utility company was withdrawing its application for approval of the Shipe Road – Kings River 345 kV transmission line that would have traversed from eastern Benton County to Berryville in central Carroll County. SWEPCO gave up on the project after almost two years of record-breaking public opposition spearheaded by Save the Ozarks, a small all-volunteer group based in Eureka Springs.
Almost a year ago, the Commission completed its consideration of the evidence of need for the proposed 345 kV transmission line presented by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), as well as legal and evidentiary challenges of that evidence by Save the Ozark, and issued Order 36. In Order 36, the Commission concluded that “the record is presently insufficient to determine: the need for the particular 345 kV project that has been proposed …”
In short, STO was correct in claiming there was no need for the project. Nonetheless, rather than following standard procedure by denying the application after concluding that SWEPCO had failed to prove a need for the project, the Commission gave SWEPCO yet another opportunity to prove need by ordering the company to conduct a comprehensive reevaluation. SWEPCO handed that task to SPP.
Apparently the reevaluation was completed because SPP notified SWEPCO on Dec. 29, 2014, that the “comprehensive reevaluation showed that reliability needs in northern Arkansas have significantly decreased compared to previous studies of area needs. From these findings, we conclude that the Project is no longer necessary to meet currently projected needs in the area.” SPP determined “an almost 50% decrease in load growth rates in an area identified as having the highest impact on the need for the Project, compared to the load forecasts provided to SPP that were utilized in the 2013 high-level evaluation.”
SPP offered no explanation for the dramatic difference between the load growth rates forecast in June of 2013 and those forecast less than 18 months later. It is certain that there was no sudden drop in population or loss of large industries in the region during that period. Did SWEPCO or AECC overstate the load data sent to SPP for the 2013 evaluation? Did SPP err in entering the data or in transcribing modeling results, as discovered during the evidentiary hearing? Apparently these and related questions will remain unanswered.
Responding to SWEPCO’s notice of withdrawal on January 12, 2015, STO asked the Commission to deny SWEPCO’s application, to find intervenors, including STO, to be prevailing parties, and to be allowed reasonable time to submit motions for attorneys’ fees and litigation costs before closing the docket. Subsequently, SWEPCO, SPP and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) filed a joint motion on January 20, asking the Commission to deny STO’s requests for relief and to close the docket. On March 17, STO responded by asking to be allowed to file a surreply, in part because of “material misrepresentations” by SWEPCO, SPP and AECC. As is customary, the request to file a surreply was accompanied by the surreply itself, which included a new affidavit by STO’s transmission planning expert, Dr. Hyde M. Merrill. In their joint reply of March 18, SWEPCO, SPP and AECC asked the Commission to deny STO’s request and to strike the Surreply from the record.
With the issuance of Order 38 of May 20, 2015, the Commission agreed with SWEPCO, SPP and AECC.