Billy Graham once said “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
San Sabans recently showed their courage by filing hundreds of protests and comment letters with the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC). The issue that stiffened San Saba’s collective spine is the high-voltage transmission line proposed by Oncor Electric Delivery Company. If approved, Oncor will acquire about 50 miles of easement right of way in our County. The easement will be about 160 feet wide and will be populated with double-circuit 345kV lattice steel V-tower structures. These towers have a wing span of about 73 feet and rise to a height of 120 feet—about 12 stories. Approximately 220 of these structures are proposed for our County. Oncor’s route crosses the Colorado River twice and the San Saba River once along a path that cuts across the heart of the County.
Just as San Sabans were rising to speak against the Oncor plan, the Lower Colorado River Authority delivered another challenge by proposing a similar transmission line cutting across the southern tip of the County. LCRA’s line is similar to Oncor’s in that it uses the same type of towers, requires the same size easement and requires clear-cutting to accommodate the transmission structures. The LCRA line also crosses the Colorado River.
Both Oncor’s and LCRA’s projects are part of a massive effort to bring West Texas wind energy to population centers such as Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The motivation to build these huge transmission lines started in 1999 when the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 7 establishing standards for the development of renewable energy. In 2005, the Legislature raised the standard and introduced a new concept—Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ). Why? Among other reasons, to break the “chicken and egg” deadlock between wind energy developers and Transmission Service Providers. To solve the chicken and egg problem, the Texas Legislature ordered the PUC to develop a transmission plan with sufficient capacity to deliver renewable resources (i.e., wind energy) to electric customers.
Oncor filed the application to route its transmission line through San Saba County on October 7; landowners and other interested parties had until November 6 to respond. A groundswell of opposition emerged and hundreds of citizens submitted documents to the PUC. This avalanche of opposition was particularly impressive because the PUC required each filer to submit an original plus 10 copies and required documents to be mailed or hand delivered. To the PUC’s credit, all filings are accessible on its web site (www.puc.state.tx.us). To reach the filings from the PUC home page, click on “Search,” then “Filings-Interchange Search”, then “Login”, then enter control # 37464, then “Search Now.”
There are various reasons why San Sabans oppose the transmission lines. Many fear the lines will decrease property values. Gene Stewart, owner of Gene Stewart Real Estate commented on his protest form that “I have been a ranch realtor in San Saba County for over 20 years. This power line route will have a devastating effect on property values and the desirability of land.”
Others worried about the health hazards posed by the electromagnetic emissions. David Norris asked “What will this magnetic field do to my health in the long run?” Emily and Don Pruitt conceded that “Although the scientific data concerning the health hazard of the high voltage lines on humans may be inconclusive, the psychological aspect of only being able to enter a property by going under these high voltage lines would drastically reduce the value of the entire tract of land.”
Many people expressed concern about environmental impact. Mitchell Smith who lives near Elm Grove said “It seems to me that Oncor is unfairly using the label ‘wind power’ to provide a ‘green seal of approval’ on a project that is slated to destroy more of the dwindling true, natural Texas greenery.” Robert Daniel owns 125 acres of grass land which has a home and ranch facilities. In addition, there is an easement for a 69kV transmission line from McCulloch Electric Coop. Mr. Daniel pleads “With all due respect, we believe that our little 125 acres has all the electric lines it needs…” Clark Giles made this statement: “It’s tragic that an effort to minimize environmental impact related to power generation and distribution would in itself cause substantial negative environmental impact.” Those with environmental concerns have strong allies. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club which has more than 25,000 members in Texas joined the protest and said “It would be unfortunate if our strong support for wind energy led to destruction of important habitat.”
Interestingly, the City of Goldthwaite filed a Motion to Intervene saying that “Certain routings proposed by Oncor may have an adverse impact on community values, recreational and park areas, historical and aesthetics values, and environmental integrity in Goldthwaite and are of interest to Goldthwaite and its citizens.” The City of San Saba did not file a similar statement, although the San Saba County Commissioners Court passed a resolution opposing the lines.
David Williams, Chairman of the San Saba Historical Commission, weighed in on the protest saying that, “San Saba County currently has fewer inhabitants than it did in the past century, so we have had the good fortune of keeping historic resources that might have been obliterated elsewhere.” He goes on to say that “the Regency Bridge between Mills and San Saba Counties is a National Register site and anything that alters the scenic beauty surrounding that location would be a great loss.” David requested that the PUC extend the time for comment “to allow us to better assess and address the implications/impacts of the proposed project.”
Some of the protests reflected our citizens’ love and passion for the land. Nelda Weatherby exclaimed, “Oncor coming across San Saba County …is taking away the beauty and value of the land which can never be replaced.” And, Elsie Millican said, “I am 95. I have lived in the County all these years. Our County takes pride in its beauty. I am willing for lines to be buried, but not for anyone to take over land that I have bought and paid for.”
So, what can you do now to follow the action or make your voice heard? First, you may continue to file comments (pro or con) with the PUC.
Second, you can keep up with what’s happening by consulting the PUC website or the POSSE web site (www.sansabaposse.org.) POSSE – Preserve Our San Saba Environment—is a non-profit corporation created for the purpose of opposing high-voltage transmission lines in San Saba County. Third, contact your local officials and state legislative representatives. Troy Fraser (512.463.0124) is our State Senator and Harvey Hilderbran (512.463.0536) is our State Representative. Finally, and perhaps most important, realize that when you take a stand either for or against these projects, you inspire others. And, public participation is what protects our property rights and preserves our freedom.