Landowners and others involved in transmission line cases before the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) often ask about the standards or criteria for approving a transmission line. The PUC has both statutory and regulatory guidelines that it must follow when it reviews proposed transmission lines.
Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURA) Sec. 37.056(c) establishes the statutory guidelines. The Commission must consider:
- Adequacy of existing service
- Need for additional service
- The effect of granting the CCN on any electric utility serving the proximate area
- Other factors that include:
- Community values
- Recreational and park areas
- Historical and aesthetic values
- Environmental integrity
- The probably improvement of service or lowering of cost to consumers in the area
The Commission established a rule to guide its consideration of new transmission lines. PUC Subst. R. 25.101(b)(3)(B) requires an application for a new transmission line to address the criteria in PURA Sec. 37.056(c) and considering those criteria, engineering constraints, and costs, the line shall be routed to the extent reasonable to moderate the impact on the affected community and landowners unless grid reliability and security dictate otherwise.
As it is considering the selection of its preferred and alternative routes, the utility shall use the following factors unless a line is agreed to by the utility, landowners whose property is crossed by a proposed line, and owners of land that contain a habitable structure that is within 300 or 500 feet of the centerline of the transmission project:
- Whether the routes utilize existing compatible rights-of-way, including the use of vacant positions on existing multiple-circuit transmission lines;
- Whether the routes parallel existing compatible rights-of-way
- Whether the routes parallel property lines or other natural or cultural features; and
- Whether the routes conform with the policy of prudent avoidance.
The definition of prudent avoidance requires limiting exposures to electric and magnetic fields that can be avoided with reasonable investments of money and effort. PUC Subst. R. 25.101(a)(4). In practice, this often means that a 230 kV or less line should not be within 300 feet of a habitable structure and a line that is greater than 230 kV should not be within 500 feet of a habitable structure.
None of the guidelines are required to be weighted any more than another. In a recent letter to Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Chairman Smitherman says that as a Commissioner, and more recently as Chairman of the PUC, one of the most important factors he considers when evaluating applications for transmission lines is the impact that the line would have on landowners. He then lists some of the statutory and regulatory requirements that the Commission must consider. He closes by saying that the Commission will evaluate proposed routes based on the statutory and regulatory requirements and attempt to minimize the impact of the line on landowners and to limit the cost of the line to ratepayers.
Those two issues often are difficult to balance as it usually costs ratepayers more as the Commission minimizes the impact of the transmission line on landowners.