The battle to determine whether Oncor’s high-voltage transmission lines will go through San Saba County continues to rage. Lawyers are filing motions, citizens are making their voices heard and state agencies are weighing in.
This action is following a process adopted by the Public Utilities Commission.
This process is outlined in the PUC’s brochure "Landowners and Transmission Line Cases at the PUC Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) Projects." The brochure is available on the PUC’s web site (www.puc.state.tx.us).
San Saba's case (Docket #37464) is about half way through the process. In addition to outlining the stages of the process, the brochure lists the criteria the PUC should consider in choosing the best route. Among those factors are:
•Whether the route utilizes or parallels existing compatible rights-of-way
•Whether the route limits the public’s exposure to electric and magnetic fields (i.e., the transmission line’s proximity to habitable structures)
•Other factors such as community values, recreational and park areas, historical and aesthetic values, environmental integrity, etc.
In recent weeks, the folks who want to keep Oncor’s line out of San Saba County have received some positive news. First, State Senator Troy Fraser sent a letter to PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman reminding him of the need to "use existing rights of ways and paths of least resistance in order to protect personal property rights."
Next, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department filed its report. TPW staffer Julie Wright wrote, "Clearing for transmission line ROWs can have significant and direct and indirect impacts…." She concluded that Route 140 (the route which takes the transmission lines north of San Saba County) "appears to have the fewest overall potential impacts to natural resources."
Then, the PUC Staff report, authored by Engineering Specialist Chris Roelse, agreed with Ms. Wright and recommended Route 140 instead of Oncor’s preferred Route 255 (Route 255 cuts through the heart of the County and crosses the Colorado River twice and the San Saba River once.)
Although the tide seems to be turning in favor of those who want to keep Oncor’s line out of San Saba County, the battle is far from over. The remaining steps of the process include:
•A hearing in January 2010 before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). The lawyers, their clients and expert witnesses will be stars in this show.
•Once the ALJs make their recommendation, the PUC may approve it, send it back for further review, make changes or deny Oncor’s application.
•Once the PUC makes its decision, parties may file motions essentially asking the PUC to reconsider its decision.
•Finally, the PUC’s decision may be appealed in the district court in Travis County.
Citizens can continue to influence the process by:
•Filing comments with the PUC letting them know how the transmission lines support or interfere with our community values.
San Sabans have already spoken loudly with the sheer volume of information they submitted. In fact, the PUC’s software has been stressed with the overwhelming response from San Saba County.
•Contacting your state representatives. Senator Troy Fraser (www.fraser.senate.state.tx.us) and Representative Harvey Hilderbran (www.house.state.tx.us) want to hear your opinion and can communicate your concerns to the PUC. Contact them frequently. Ask questions. Let them know where you stand.
•Stay up to date. Documents regarding this case are added to the docket file almost everyday.