City leaders reconsider PRECorp plan

Proposed power line may impede on future expansion, say council members

 By Sarah Pridgeonpowerline

Though the City of Sundance has approved an easement for a new Powder River Energy transmission line, some council members are still unhappy about its potential effects down the road. At a work session on Monday, the council decided to vote on whether to rescind the easement at its next regular council meeting in February.

Representatives from PRECorp attended the work session to explain the evolution of the line’s route. For council members Hugh Palmer and Ken Denzin, the major sticking point was that Sundance is likely to expand in that direction in the future but a large transmission line might deter new development.

The 69kV transmission line will serve 4-5 megawatts of electricity to the Oneok Pipeline north of Aladdin, said Tracy Jones, Engineering Support Supervisor. It will have a secondary purpose of providing the capacity to serve an additional 20 megawatts off the same line.

The line will be funded by Oneok Pipelines. According to current plans, it will follow Hwy 585 to Sundance, where it will run along the eastern border of town before traveling up the I90 corridor towards Aladdin.

The current route was devised bearing in mind considerations such as the contractual timing needs of Oneok, ease of permitting, terrain features and accessibility, said Jones. The route has changed over time according to landowner feedback and the evolving requirements of the project.

PRECorp has 97 percent of easements for the line either acquired or committed to, Jones told the council. Only 2663 feet through City of Sundance property and 686 feet through private land remain under discussion.

The council voted to approve the easement at its January meeting, but Palmer and Denzin remain unhappy about the power line’s route.

“As you look at the way we’re set up, we can only grow one way and it’s in that direction…that’s my concern,” said Palmer.

“At some point in time there might be development want to go in over there and who’s going to build under a 69kV line or within a certain distance?”

Denzin agreed, adding that the line may decrease the value for those lots north of the current city boundary, which could become prime real estate should the city expand.

“It doesn’t have to be there, I don’t think. It can go another route and miss Sundance totally,” said Denzin.

“I don’t understand why you would come this way. For me it’s just a no-brainer to get away from people and away from town.”

Palmer asked PRECorp’s representatives whether there might be a possibility of rerouting the line away from the eastern border of town, to which Jones asked where he thought it should run instead. When Palmer suggested south of Green Mountain, Jones asked what should be done if a landowner there did not want to sign an easement.

“That’s not my problem,” said Palmer. “My problem is getting it out of the city.”

Jones explained that rerouting the line would negate all the easement commitments that have been gathered. He told the council that he has already talked to most landowners along the corridor on an individual basis.

“We didn’t hold public meetings but, if you consider how many landowners I’ve talked to throughout that corridor, we may as well have,” he said.

PRECorp representatives explained that the route had been devised to cause as little grief as possible for landowners and had been altered throughout the process in response to landowners’ wishes. Denzin, however, pointed out that one of PRECorp’s seven core values is not to unnecessarily impact communities.

“We’re the community here and you’re impacting Sundance a hell of a bunch,” he said.

CEO Mike Easley noted that PRECorp does not yet have the easement and the option is still open for the council to rescind it. The cooperative would then reconsider its options, he said.

“Your decision to grant the cooperative an easement or not is one that you have to make with the best knowledge that you can as council members,” he continued, adding that the project will need to be approved by the Public Service Commission and this will provide an opportunity for public input.

“PRECorp and the City of Sundance have a really good relationship and a good history. If you guys, as a council, decide…not to grant us the easement, then we will figure out another route.”

The new line is a positive development for the cooperative as well as the community, said Easley, as sectors of PRECorp’s business that have declined over recent years and this project will provide new load growth. It is also part of the big picture, he added, in which PRECorp hopes to position northeast Wyoming for present and future growth as projects such as the rare earth mine come online.

“The council is exercising really good leadership to come in and ask the hard question,” he said.

“Weighing in early on the concern for the community and how these projects may positively impact the community, as well as how some of the trade-offs that happen, I think is a very valid and good conversation to have at this level.”

Though PRECorp does have 97 percent of the easements it needs for the new line, Easley assured council members that this should not make them feel as though they have “a gun to your head.”

“From my perspective, this is a straight-up decision. If you want to grant us the easement, that’s great,” he said. “If you don’t, the project will be set back a little bit but I’ve got a pretty good team working for me and they’ll figure out a way.”

Mayor Paul Brooks later explained that he has more than one reason to feel inclined to grant the easement. Firstly, he agrees with Easley’s statement that PRECorp has always worked in a “good faith, get-along” manner with the city and feels that, having used that relationship for the benefit of the city in the past, he is now “caught on both sides.”

He also told the council that the payment received for the easement could conceivably be used to match a grant for reclamation of the old Cole Water Storage Tank site, which the city is contractually obliged to do but cannot currently afford.

The question of whether to rescind the easement has been added to the agenda for the council’s regular monthly meeting on February 4.