Lengthy Environmental Review Covers Bases for Wind Power Transmission

Guest Blog | March 16, 2015 | Energy Policy, Wind

This blog is part of a series reviewing the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project. Other blogs in the series are available here.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a high voltage direct current transmission project, would connect more than 3,500 megawatts of high quality, low cost wind power from western Oklahoma and Texas deep into Arkansas and Tennessee. The 720 mile long power line is presently undergoing a federal environmental impact statement review by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Weighing in at 3,700 pages, the hulking review document exhaustively covers just about any impact the project may have.

Here are a few of the more detailed topics that were covered in the Plains and Eastern Clean Line EIS that may not commonly be considered when constructing a large infrastructure project. The fact that they are considered as part of Clean Line’s EIS demonstrate that the potential impacts of the project have been clearly and extensively considered.

  • Loose cattle. Under Agricultural Resources as a potential impact, “Construction may affect livestock control and distribution if a gate is left open or a fence is damaged.”
  • Air pollution from construction crew trucks. For air emissions,”While there would be minor temporary impacts on air quality in the vicinity of ongoing construction activities, emissions would be below National Ambient Air Quality Standards for all emissions.”
  • Pacemakers. As a potential impact to the electrical environment, “While a variety of electronic devices are known to affect the operation of pacemakers and other implanted medical devices, transmission lines have not been reported as a significant source to produce functional disturbances to these devices.”
  • How much water the work crews will drink.  It was noted that wind farm construction and operation could impact groundwater, “Groundwater use would be minor; (limited to personal needs of the few workers associated with maintenance of facilities and equipment).”
  • Student to teacher ratios. It was considered if the sudden influx of thousands of new workers could create an impact to education, “The majority of the HVDC alternative routes would not affect the peak number of school age children temporarily relocating to the affected regions.”
  • Road traffic.  During wind farm construction road traffic could temporarily increase, “Low level of increased rural traffic from wind farm workers and their families.”
  • Mowing the grass.  The project may need some upkeep, “Operation and maintenance of the Project is likely to impact vegetation directly through mowing and pruning…”
  • The project will be visible. The project would be visible, “Overall visual impacts would be low due to existing modification to the landscape and low number of sensitive viewers.”
  • Carpet static electricity is shocking. The EIS explains what static electricity is, “Static electric fields can also result from friction generated when someone takes off a sweater, slides across a car seat, or walks across a carpet. For example, body voltages as high as 10–16,000 volts have been measured after walking across a carpet (Chakravarti and Pontrelli 1976). It is a common occurrence that someone receives a small shock (a discharge of built-up body voltage) when touching a doorknob after walking across a carpet.”
  • Crop dusters can fly under power lines. Aerial applicators may be able to fly under the lines: “Applicators can fly beneath the lines or wires in cases where transmission lines and other wires are positioned high enough.”

The lengthy nature of the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Environmental Impact Statement is not unique. EISs tend to be extremely long documents that evaluate any number of potential impacts (and potential benefits). For comparison, the Cape Wind offshore wind project had an EIS over 800 pages long. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would provide about ten times as much wind power as the Cape Wind project, but its EIS came in at a svelte 3,700 pages – just 4.6 times longer than Cape Wind’s.

Federal agencies have a responsibility to thoroughly review their actions, down to the smallest detail. EISs are prime examples of “seeing the forest for the trees.” The key is being able to weigh the myriad potential impacts against the potential benefits to come up with a final recommendation. Like Cape Wind, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project EIS appears to point towards a net benefit with minimal harm.

This blog is part of a series reviewing the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project (PECLseries).

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