Staff members at the Public Utility Commission will get to work today trying to please a district judge who threw a $5 billion wind energy transmission plan back to the agency.
The city of Garland’s municipally owned utility had objected to losing out on an opportunity to build some lines to take West Texas wind energy, including from the Panhandle, to the state’s population centers. The city, near Dallas, argued it could build the lines cheaper than private companies because of its ability to borrow money at lower interest rates and its exemption from property taxes.
Judge Stephen Yelenosky of 345th District Court in Austin sent the PUC’s order, designating which companies would build which segments of the lines, back for reconsideration Friday, saying the agency exceeded its authority and was “arbitrary and capricious.”
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley downplayed the ruling.
“The judge mentioned the commission needs to review a few of the arguments Garland made,” he said. “We don’t expect any delays.”
The PUC’s stance is that some of the reasons it didn’t choose any city-owned utilities has to do with the agency’s lack of jurisdiction over them. It has no oversight on issues such as how a municipal utility uses eminent domain to get rights of way.
A wind industry group and one of the transmission builders set to work in the Panhandle said not much should change during the review.
“We’re just continuing to move forward and waiting to see what comes from the commission,” said Cameron Fredkin, director of project development for Cross Texas Transmission.
The company plans to build lines from the Childress area to near Pampa and then to White Deer, and lines from Childress to the Silverton vicinity.
The other transmission company declined comment.
“Sharyland Utilities has a long-standing policy that we do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” said Jeanne Phillips, spokeswoman for Sharyland.
It plans to build from White Deer to the Hereford area to Castro County and then Briscoe County. Another Sharyland route would extend from White Deer to Briscoe County to Dickens County.
Construction cost estimates are about $393 million for Sharyland and $402 million for Cross Texas.
Electric customers outside the Panhandle will be paying for construction of the lines. As the PUC and Garland continue to wrangle with what “is most beneficial and cost-effective to the customers,” as dictated by state law, the judge has allowed work to continue on the network of power lines.
“He still has the ability to have a hearing for an injunction to stop things if the PUC doesn’t cooperate,” said Paul Sadler, executive director of the Austin-based trade group The Wind Coalition. “I think he gave the PUC the ability to have a minimal delay.”
Garland has been in the power supply business since 1923, according to its PUC filings. It oversees multiple power plants and 132 miles of transmission lines.
The city wanted a piece of the wind line business to fit within its financial limits of about $114 million to $200 million.
Two of the segments it applied for permits to build were about 56 miles each in the Panhandle. The city was closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and the Amarillo Globe-News was unable to reach Garland city officials for comment.