(Adds regulator comment, transmission companies)
By Eileen O'Grady
HOUSTON Oct 27 A private power line built in Texas by a unit of FPL Group (FPL.N) has other transmission developers worried about higher costs and public resistance to new lines needed to move emission-free wind power from sparsely populated areas to big cities, like Dallas and San Antonio.
FPL's NextEra Energy Resources has completed a 200-mile (320-kilometer), private line from its Horse Hollow and Callahan Divide wind farms in West Texas to a substation near San Antonio, crossing parts of the scenic Texas Hill Country.
NextEra reportedly paid high prices for easements needed to complete the private line. [ID:nN26203548]
NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel on Tuesday declined to disclose the cost of the 345-kilovolt line, dubbed the "Texas Clean Energy Express."
The project was completed with little public input, bypassing the Texas Public Utility Commission's Competitive Energy Renewable Zones (CREZ) process in which the PUC designated new transmission routes and assigned companies to add more than 2,300 miles to the grid in a $5 billion plan to reduce congestion and allow Texas wind capacity to swell to 18,500 MW by late 2013.
While FPL's land negotiations were confidential, some transmission developers worry that land owners will expect higher prices for easement needed to build CREZ routes.
"We only know that expectations have been raised," said one transmission company official involved in CREZ development.
Resentment of the NextEra line may have tainted public sentiment regarding transmission at least in the Hill Country.
The Lower Colorado River Authority was forced to seek a delay of the review of its Hill Country CREZ line after being inundated with questions after 11 public meetings.
LCRA told the PUC last month it needed more time to study route options it hopes the public will find more acceptable.
That has raised concern among wind-farm owners that any delay in the CREZ process could push completion of new lines beyond 2013, according to PUC filings.
LCRA still plans to finish its "priority" line in 2013. Hill Country residents aren't so sure.
The NextEra line "is going to make it extremely difficult for LCRA or any anyone that has to come through this area," said Gary Guenthner of Harper, Texas, who rejected FPL's offers but now sees the line from his front door. "Nobody really realized how big and how disruptive these lines would be."
Other Texas communities have welcomed wind farms and state regulators remain determined to exploit the state's abundant wind resources.
"Nobody asks us to put lines on their land," PUC chairman Barry Smitherman said at an open meeting. "We want to do it right, but it's got to be built."
Another FPL unit, Lone Star Transmission, is among the regulated companies that will build CREZ segments. Others include Dallas-based Oncor; Electric Transmission Texas, an American Electric Power (AEP.N) joint venture; Sharyland Utilities; Spanish-based Isolux Corsan and LS Power Group.
(Editing by Marguerita Choy)