The Public Utility Commission held an open meeting last Friday in Austin and denied LCRA’s application to build the Gillespie to Newton CREZ transmission line across the southeastern tip of San Saba County.
PUC Commissioners voted unanimously to reject the application and admonished LCRA for not bringing the PUC better route choices, although the Commissioners acknowledged that perhaps Oncor’s Brown-Newton transmission line project may have forced LCRA into route options that did not comply with the PUC’s rules.
The Gillespie-Newton project was first addressed by the PUC Commissioners at an extensive open meeting April 15. At that meeting, parties, non-parties and concerned citizens were given the opportunity to state their opposition or preference for Route GN6 - the route recommended in the Administrative Law Judge’s proposal for decision issued last month. Approximately 100 opponents of that decision were present along with many others who supported the ALJ’s decision, including representatives from POSSE, the San Saba organization that successfully fought against Oncor’s Brown-Newton transmission line. At the end of the day, the PUC Commissioners tabled their decision until April 23 in order to take time to study the project in more depth.
During the postponement, POSSE filed a letter on Monday, April 19, expressing concerns that too much weight might be given to comments at the April 15 meeting by parties who had not exercised their right to intervene when they had the chance. The letter also pointed to the overwhelming amount of community opposition to large transmission lines in San Saba County as witnessed in the recently settled Oncor case.
Comments from other parties expressing similar concerns followed the POSSE letter.
Then, the night before the April 23 open meeting, Chairman Barry Smitherman filed a last-minute memo stating, among other concerns, that he found route alternatives in the middle and northern parts of the study area unacceptable. He pointed out that LCRA’s routes through San Saba did not utilize rights-of-way nor follow property lines to adhere to PUC requirements. But Smitherman also found that the ALJ’s chosen route passed too many habitable structures, while indicating he could support this route except for other routing problems in the Kempner area. He concluded by saying he was in favor of denying the LCRA application.
In the Open Meeting, it developed that the other two Commissioners shared generally similar views to Smitherman regarding the route choices, and the subsequent vote to deny the application was unanimous. Concerns about the amount of money and time spent by landowners who fought this project were voiced, and one attorney asked if the evidence in the last hearing could be transferred to the next case. Chairman Smitherman, though sympathetic, replied, "This case starts over." However, he reminded LCRA that there were two votes – his and Commissioner Anderson’s – in favor of the ALJ’s recommended route up to where it gets closer to the City of Lampasas. Since it only takes two out of three Commissioners to pass a final order in a transmission line case, it seemed clear that Smitherman was hinting that this should be the starting point for LCRA’s next application.
For more information regarding this project, go to the PUC interchange website at http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/application/dbapps/login/pgLogin. asp and click on the "Login" button. Type the project docket number "37448" in the "Control Number" field and hit "Search". Or you can visit the POSSE website at http://www.sansabaposse.org.