CUSHING — The giant maps spread out across several conference tables might have attracted the most attention, but area residents who came out this week had more pressing concerns: How would a planned transmission line affect their property?
The federal Energy Department hosted the public forum in Cushing on Tuesday evening as part of a series of 12 meetings for landowners along a proposed 700-mile high-voltage, direct-current transmission line that would take electricity from the Oklahoma Panhandle to north of Memphis, Tenn.
Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC plans to have its Plains and Eastern Clean Line project in operation by the end of 2017. The company has narrowed the project to two potential routes — each about one-mile wide — where right of way easements would be required for the transmission towers and lines. The easements would be between 150 feet and 200 feet wide.
Stan and Ann Moffat, who own 320 acres about halfway between Stillwater and Perkins, said they aren't interested in another infrastructure project that would affect their land. The Moffat family has held the farmland since 1960.
“We already have four utilities across our property, and a fifth, rural water, is fixing to go clear across it,” Stan Moffat said. “And now they're wanting to go across with a 200-foot right of way, which is 12½ acres in a half-mile.”
Clean Line's $2 billion project is privately funded, but the company is asking the Energy Department to participate under a 2005 law that promotes new transmission projects. That would allow Clean Line to use the government's power of eminent domain as a last resort if it can't work out easement arrangements with landowners.
The Cushing meeting was part of the Energy Department's public “scoping process” to decide what it needs to focus on in an upcoming environmental review of the project.
“We want to know what is important to your community,” said Jane Summerson, with the Energy Department's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office. “What we're going to decide is basically twofold: whether to participate and, if so, how to participate, in this Clean Line project.”
Kay Pearson, who lives south of Stillwater, said she came to the meeting to learn more about the project and study the maps. She found out her family's property is within the one-mile route of proposed easements for the project. Pearson, who used to work in health care, said she was concerned with some of the health effects.
“I'm concerned about some of the issues related with cancer and children,” Pearson said. “Leukemia is one of the concerns when you're too close to electromagnetic fields. I went out and looked up some studies. They said that was AC power versus DC power, but I'll have to check that out.”
Alternating current transmission lines are much more common but are less efficient over long distances than direct current transmission lines. Several studies of electromagnetic field exposure from high-voltage, direct-current lines already in operation show no adverse health effects, although research has been limited.
Part of the process
Summerson said her job is to manage the federal process under the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that coordinates the environmental impacts of projects being considered by federal agencies. Current land use, water use, health effects, species of concern, major rivers, and historical, cultural and tribal considerations are among the areas the department will study.
“I am not a proponent of the project, I am a proponent of the NEPA process,” Summerson said. “My job is to ensure we do this correctly, both for the government and for the public.”
In response to an audience question, Summerson said eminent domain is a last resort.
“For both Clean Line and the Department of Energy, our strong preference is to work with the landowners and take the time to come up with an acceptable easement with acceptable compensation along the route,” Summerson said. “Eminent domain is the absolute last resort.”
Michael Skelly, Clean Line's president, attended the Cushing meeting as an observer. He said the company is reimbursing the Energy Department for its costs in putting together the meetings and the environmental review.
“We're building on efforts we've been making for the last couple of years to reach out to the public and potentially affected landowners and tell them about the project and what the project will accomplish,” Skelly said. “Most importantly, we're getting input and that will help us do a better job in putting the project together.”
The Energy Department plans to issue a draft environmental impact statement by the end of the year. Then it will hold another series of public meetings on the draft. The department isn't expected to make a decision on its participation in the project until 2014 at the earliest.