(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
"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)