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Transmission line debates: wind here, towers somewhere else

Karlen Hardy's home on Farm Road 126 is built with a panel of glass windows to give her the best view of the hills. "During the daylight, I see the generators, and at night I see the red lights," Hardy said. "It looks like alien spaceships coming through the window. "The lines will totally destroy our view," she added. But Catherine Cuellar, Oncor spokeswoman, said the importance of the transmission lines outweighs the aesthetic worries. "I definitely think that as time passes, the visual impact diminishes," she said.

Surrounded by rocky mesas and spinning wind turbines, Aleta Alexander points to the grassy area where 21,000 pounds of steel will tower before her childhood home tucked some 20 miles south of Merkel.

"It'll be some view," she said, shaking her head and considering the electrical transmission lines that are proposed to be constructed through her property.

The transmission lines would connect area wind farms with the state's electrical grid, joining two switching stations through Mulberry Canyon. Some residents of the canyon, such as Alexander, oppose the project. Others favor it.

The state says the lines are needed to carry electricity from wind farms where it is produced to metropolitan areas where it is needed. More energy can be generated by the roughly 4,000 wind turbines in West Central Texas than can be carried by existing transmission lines.

To remedy that, the state has approved nearly $5 billion in new transmission lines.

The main concern of some Mulberry Canyon residents is the blow to the area's appearance with the construction of the roughly 125-foot towers, spaced between 1,000 and 1,200 feet apart, and the lines draped between... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Surrounded by rocky mesas and spinning wind turbines, Aleta Alexander points to the grassy area where 21,000 pounds of steel will tower before her childhood home tucked some 20 miles south of Merkel.

"It'll be some view," she said, shaking her head and considering the electrical transmission lines that are proposed to be constructed through her property.

The transmission lines would connect area wind farms with the state's electrical grid, joining two switching stations through Mulberry Canyon. Some residents of the canyon, such as Alexander, oppose the project. Others favor it.

The state says the lines are needed to carry electricity from wind farms where it is produced to metropolitan areas where it is needed. More energy can be generated by the roughly 4,000 wind turbines in West Central Texas than can be carried by existing transmission lines.

To remedy that, the state has approved nearly $5 billion in new transmission lines.

The main concern of some Mulberry Canyon residents is the blow to the area's appearance with the construction of the roughly 125-foot towers, spaced between 1,000 and 1,200 feet apart, and the lines draped between them.

Karlen Hardy's home on Farm Road 126 is built with a panel of glass windows to give her the best view of the hills.

"During the daylight, I see the generators, and at night I see the red lights," Hardy said. "It looks like alien spaceships coming through the window.

"The lines will totally destroy our view," she added.

But Catherine Cuellar, Oncor spokeswoman, said the importance of the transmission lines outweighs the aesthetic worries.

"I definitely think that as time passes, the visual impact diminishes," she said. "Our lives depend on safe, reliable transmission. Anytime that construction occurs, initially, it's noticeable, but I do think that people will adjust to the lines as time passes."

Oncor is one of 13 entities designated to add 2,900 miles of transmission lines to the state's electrical grid. Of those 2,900 miles, 10 will run through Mulberry Canyon, depending on the route, and cost $15 million.

"I'm extremely against it," Hardy said. "They need to go around. The historical area needs to be conserved, so we are working really hard to try to keep it the way it was."

Many unmarked graves of settlers are scattered throughout the canyon, plus there are Indian graves in the canyon's southeast region, residents point out. A proposed line would cut through the Indian grave site.

State law says that construction or improvement may not be made to an area where an unknown or abandoned cemetery is. The human remains must be removed under a written order issued by the state registrar.

Additionally, no person who is not the owner may excavate, damage, dig or destroy any American Indian campsite, burial or ruin.

Alexander's family history links to one of Mulberry Canyon's most notable pioneers, her great-grandfather Samuel Butman. Butman founded the Butman Methodist Camp & Retreat Center in the canyon, where Alexander volunteers once a week.

Butman's house still stands - a few hundred feet from a proposed transmission line.

But Steve Oatman, who lives in Sweetwater off State Highway 70, said he would welcome the lines.

"Put them in because we have wind turbines out at the ranch, and they curtail them," he said. "They have to shut them off once a week, and any kind of income we get off these wind turbines is a plus."

But his approval comes with a bit of negativity.

"The bottom line is this," he said. "They should have built all these transmission lines 15 years ago, and they've just been dragging their feet. And after the fact, they decided we need a great big one here. It's been sort of a half-hearted plan."

Oatman owns a "very small ranch" where wind turbines spot his land, and where two lines already run in front of his house.

"I'm all for green energy," he said. "I'm not against it. I'm all for it. I want them to build them, but the problem is, now they put up thousands of wind turbines, and now they can't get the electricity out."

Alexander said residents have other concerns.

Across from the entrance from Butman Camp, the structures would become an eyesore for residents and parents alike, she said. Parents dropping off their children at camp might be turned away by the safety hazard posed by the towering lines.

"For the camp, kids will see those lines and say, ‘Hmm. How can I get to the top of that?' Something like that is a liability for the camp," Alexander said.

However, Cuellar said, the lines are protected under Homeland Security law and are equipped with "technology to deter anybody from being able to access them."

Another concern raised is the effect of the magnetic fields.

However, a study released by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that transmission lines emit fewer electromagnetic waves than microwaves or cell phones.

"Safety is Oncor's top priority," Cuellar said. "It's part of Oncor's corporate culture."

Several open house meetings have been conducted by Oncor to help the company prepare a proposal to deliver to the Public Utility Commission, which will ultimately determine the route.

"We are including all of the feedback from the community into our proposal to the state," Cuellar said. "The more feedback we get, the more well-informed our proposal will be."

But some residents said the meetings, rather than help, pose interference with their opinions.

"It's a very uneven approach to things, these meetings," said George Quesada, who owns land in Mulberry Canyon.

"We're spread out over several hours, and it's come-and-go. I think the reason they do this is to prevent the neighbors from getting together to compare notes."

The open house meetings are held in compliance with state law. Direct-mail notice is given to landowners within 500 feet of preliminary alternative routing for lines.

Cuellar said she could not yet estimate what compensation would be for right-of-way landowners.

Despite the idea of payment, Quesada has helped to spearhead an effort calling on Mulberry Canyon residents to write protest letters to Oncor.

Hardy sent 78 pages of documentation to Oncor in mid-May after feeling blind-sided with paperwork at a Sweetwater meeting.

"What was really frustrating is, when we got there, they hit us with questionnaires and all this other stuff," she said. "No one was equipped with documentation because we weren't prepared for that."

Transmission line construction can take five to 10 years. A preferred and alternate route will be determined by the fall, Cuellar said.

Most residents are asking that the roughly 10-mile line be pushed west into Nolan County.

"The sooner they get it in, the better this country will be," Oatman said. "I may have a big kV line, but at least we'll get this electricity out of here."


Source: http://www.reporternews.com...

JUL 18 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/21277-transmission-line-debates-wind-here-towers-somewhere-else
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