Two Crawford County residents call into question the necessity and viability of the Plains and Eastern Clean Line transmission line project.
Staunch opponents to the high-voltage transmission line project, Julie Morton and Jerry Harry, said they see no reason the project should exist, much less cross through Arkansas.
"The same [U.S.] Department of Energy that is trying to contract with Clean Line to take our land put out a study in 2012 stating that they had already spent $168 million of our tax dollars to build rim generation projects in the Atlantic Ocean to serve the same customers that Clean Line claims they need to serve," Morton said.
Morton is referencing the December 2012 update on the National Offshore Wind Strategy, created in 2011. The update states that up to $168 million had been recently awarded for seven offshore wind advanced technology demonstration projects.
"These projects are the first of their kind in America, intended to spur installation and validation of innovative offshore wind systems in U.S. waters," the update states.
With numerous ongoing oceanic projects under development, Morton said the Plains and Eastern project is superfluous and will be obsolete within the decade.
Offshore wind generators are considered more consistent and less limited in energy production than those on land, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would consist of a 700-mile, high-voltage transmission line crossing through the approximate center of Arkansas on its way from wind farms in Oklahoma to provide energy to Tennessee.
The Tennessee Regulatory Authority unanimously voted to approve the application of Plains and Eastern for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, and granted it authority to operate as a wholesale transmission-only public utility.
But even if Tennessee needs the energy, Morton and Harry said Arkansas does not.
As part of an application for "third-party financing" though the Southwestern Power Administration under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Clean Line included in its plan a converter station slightly north of Atkins.
According to Attorney Field K. Wasson, a consultant for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Project, the project would be able to transmit 500 megawatts of energy to the state, serving $160,000 homes.
Wasson addressed the Crawford County Quorum Court on the project during their Jan. 26 meeting. He said Clean Line is in "active discussions" with several utility providers to purchase the energy.
"Renewable energy is going to be coming to Arkansas in a bigger way than it has in the past," Wasson said.
But without contracts, Clean Line "won’t be able to do anything with this electricity at this time," Morton said.
One of Clean Line’s promises regarding the converter station is that it will only be putting energy into the Arkansas grid, not taking any out, but Harry said that is a tremulous promise.
Harry pointed out that while the company only needs about 10-15 acres to build the station at described in its plan, its contract with the landowner has an option to buy 40 acres. He surmised that the land could be used to expand the converter station to also accept energy from the nearby nuclear power plant.
"And when the wind falls down in Oklahoma, and you know it will, they’re going to turn around and suck power out of [Entergy] Nuclear One," Harry said.
Morton and Harry also claim Arkansas, as an energy exporter, is not in need of additional energy.
"If you’re an exporting state, you’re producing more power than you have use for," Morton said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration 2012 Electric Power Annual Report, the most recent information on state’s electricity production, Arkansas had retail sales of 46,860 million kilowatt hours that year.
Net production was 65,006 thousand megawatt hours.
"I think it is a fair statement that that there is more electricity generated in Arkansas than is consumed," said John Bethel, executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Bethel added that Arkansas also consumes electricity imported from outside the state.
Instability in the wind energy market is also a cause for concern, Morton said.
According to the proposed and alternate routes, the transmission line would begin at a substation - yet to be built - in the panhandle of Oklahoma. The line would likely connect to several wind farms already in place in the area - as shown by project plans - but more would have to be built to handle the amounts of energy the lines are meant to carry.
And the future of wind energy is unclear. The U.S. wind industry has been up-and-down in recent years in response to changing tax policies.
In 2013, new development decreased 92 percent from the prior year as Congress let the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) lapse at the end of 2013. It was renewed in January 2014, covering only projects that began construction by the end of the year.
The PTC is an inflation-adjusted per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year. It pays owners of wind farms 2.3 cents a kilowatt-hour for the electricity.
In Oklahoma, two lawmakers have filed legislation that would reduce the amount of Zero Emissions Tax credits for new wind farms from a half-cent per kilowatt hour for energy produced in the first year to one-tenth of a cent by the fifth year.
They also would establish a $6 million statewide cap for the Zero Emissions Tax credit, and the legislature calls for more regulation of wind farms.
"The subsidies are all that are propping these wind energy projects up," Morton said.
National Grid, one of Clean Lines biggest investors, and NSTAR recently pulled out of commitments to buy energy from a "lagging" wind energy operation, citing falling - and more affordable - gas prices as part of their motivation.
Clean Line is set to go before the Arkansas Legislative Joint Energy Committee Monday to answer questions about the Plains and Eastern project. Morton and other opponents plan to attend, she said.