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Energy:
transmission lines; environmental compatibility certificates

Our Position: oppose
Bill Number: SB1517
Sponsor: Melvin
Legislative Session: 2011 Legislative Session

Electric Transmission Line TowerSB1517 animal abuse; reporting (Melvin, Aboud:  Antenori, et al) had a strike everything amendment on transmission lines; environmental compatibility certificates added to it in committee  This strike-everything amendment resurrects a bill that did not advance in the Arizona Senate.  This is being proposed by the proponents of the proposed SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which consists of two 500 kilovolt transmission lines that if built, will stretch across about 460 miles of Arizona and New Mexico.

The proponents have been trying to jam this bill through this session, so the project is not subject to review and approval, denial, or approval with conditions by the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee process.  While this version of the bill is different than the Senate Version – unlike the previous Senate version, it allows the Arizona Corporation Commission to refer an application to the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee – its intent is similar and it still has many of the same issues, including cutting the public out of an important part of the process and potentially giving Arizona less of a voice on this multi-state projects.   

 

Status

 

Action Needed

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Contact

Sandy Bahr at (602) 253-8633 or sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

Background

First of all, we question strongly the need for this bill.  The Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee (Committee) seldom denies approval of a power plant or transmission line and likewise it generally goes with the route recommended by the applicant and identified as the preferred alternative in the National Environmental Policy Act process.  When the Committee does recommend changes, it has generally been for agricultural interests that were concerned about the proposed routes going through agricultural lands.  So, the first question you should ask is whether or not this measure is truly necessary.  While it may make things more convenient for the proponents of SunZia and any other company looking to pass through Arizona to California or other parts of the Southwest with an electric transmission line, it is not necessary and unwise.

Second, as thrilled as we are to see the Arizona Legislature recognize the significance of federal environmental laws, in this case the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it is important to understand that there are fundamental differences between this federal law and the Arizona statutes and requirements associated with the Power Plant and Line Siting process.

The NEPA process includes a process for evaluating impacts and alternatives, but does not include a permitting process.  For significant actions, an environmental impact statement is required.  In it, the full range of reasonable alternatives, including the no action alternative, must be evaluated; and the impacts, including the cumulative impacts, must be examined.  While there is a generally rigorous review of any proposal, it serves a different purpose than the Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee process.

In the Power Plant and Line Siting process, the Committee must consider the following (see ARS 40-360.06):

1. Existing plans of the state, local government and private entities for other developments at or in the vicinity of the proposed site.

2. Fish, wildlife and plant life and associated forms of life upon which they are dependent.

3. Noise emission levels and interference with communication signals.

4. The proposed availability of the site to the public for recreational purposes, consistent with safety considerations and regulations.

5. Existing scenic areas, historic sites and structures or archaeological sites at or in the vicinity of the proposed site.

6. The total environment of the area.

7. The technical practicability of achieving a proposed objective and the previous experience with equipment and methods available for achieving a proposed objective.

8. The estimated cost of the facilities and site as proposed by the applicant and the estimated cost of the facilities and site as recommended by the committee, recognizing that any significant increase in costs represents a potential increase in the cost of electric energy to the customers or the applicant.

9. Any additional factors which require consideration under applicable federal and state laws pertaining to any such site.

B. The committee shall give special consideration to the protection of areas unique because of biological wealth or because they are habitats for rare and endangered species.

In this siting process, there is opportunity for individuals, organizations, other applicants, utilities, other business interests, and more, to intervene in the process. You can present testimony, call expert witnesses, and cross examine the applicant and its experts, as well as other interveners.  Any NEPA documents are generally submitted as part of this process and do provide information and guidance.  The process all helps to build a record upon which the Committee can base its decision to approve, deny or approve with reasonable conditions the siting of power plants or transmission lines.  This information is provided to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which can affirm or deny the Committee’s decision.   The NEPA process does not provide an opportunity to directly question the information provided by the applicant or to question any of its experts, but generally provides opportunities for comment and for the presentation of information.

In the proposed 40-360.14, Section A, it states that a utility “. . . may file an application for a certificate of environmental compatibility pursuant to section 40-360.03 . . . .”  This creates ambiguity with existing law, which states “Every utility planning to construct a plant, transmission line or both in this state shall first file with the commission an application for a certificate of environmental compatibility.” (See A.R.S. § 40-360.03.)  The “may” proposed in the striker could be interpreted to mean that the application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility is optional rather than the process.

Next, in 40-360.14, Section B, it states “. . . the commission shall determine whether to refer the application to the chairman of the committee . . . .”   It fails to identify how this decision will be made or on what criteria it shall be based.  While some issues may be fleshed out in the rule-making process, it is critical for the public and for legislators voting on this measure to understand the general context of when a process will be short-circuited and the public cut out of intervening, testifying, and presenting information specific to an area of concern.

In 40-360.14, Section E of the proposed strike everything amendment, it states “[t]he Commission may hold hearings, take evidence, refer any part of the application to the committee for study and recommendations to the commission, hear public comment and require the applicant to provide notice  . . . .”  A noted above, the problem with this is it makes it totally optional.  Right now the process requires the Committee to do this.  Under these new provisions, it is possible that the Commission could make a decision without allowing for intervention, taking of testimony, etc.  This would be a great disservice to the public and could result in some damaging siting decisions.

Finally, in 40-360.14, Section H of the amendment, it requires that a certificate be issued for a minimum of 15 years.  Currently, the Arizona Corporation Commission generally limits the length of term for a certificate of environmental compatibility to 10 years.  There is flexibility for the Commission based on the specifics of a particular case, however.  While there used to be no time frames on some of these certificates, the Committee and Commission both learned that was unwise and that some periodic review was necessary as conditions can change considerably in 15 or 20 years.  We ask that you consider a cap on the term of the certificate versus the minimum proposed in the strike everything amendment.

     
     

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