Location, not need, debated over substation

By Matt Ward

Land development in southeastern Gillespie County has spurred an increased electric need in that area, prompting Central Texas Electric Cooperative (CTEC) and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to propose a new substation.

The project would include not only a new substation near Blumenthal, but also an accompanying stretch of 10-15 miles of 138-kilovolt transmission line.

Currently, CTEC operates with four substations in the county, none located east of Fredericksburg.

“If you think about our map and you have substations throughout it, there’s a big hole in eastern Gillespie County where there isn’t a substation,” CTEC Chief Executive Officer Bob Loth said. “Many of our distribution lines are running 20 to 30 miles from their power source at a substation. The City of Fredericksburg has three substations that they are taking power out of and don’t go anywhere close to 20 miles.”

The project is designed to increase electric capacity and improve redundancy for CTEC’s customers in the growing area east of Fredericksburg and would connect the new substation with an existing 138-kV transmission line that runs through northern Kendall and western Blanco counties.

According to the LCRA, the project timeline is as follows:

•           File Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) with Public Utility Commission (PUC) – late 2014.

•           Anticipated PUC approval – late 2015.

•           Surveying – early 2016.

•           Design engineering – late 2016.

•           Easement acquisition – late 2016.

•           Obtain materials – early 2017.

•           Construction – mid-2017.

•           Energize project – mid-2018.

“Going forward x number of years, we will have exhausted all of our reasonably economic improvements we can do up until that date. At that date, we’re out of opportunities to do any more improvement,” David Peterson, CTEC’s director of engineering and operations, said. “It’s a standard function of any electric utility. You do what you can to your existing system, but you reach a point where nothing else is available but a new substation and that’s what’s driving this.”

 

Location a concern

While residents in the area understand the need for the project, concern grows over the exact location of both the transmission lines and the substation itself.

“(Public reaction) is ranging from really high negative feelings, just outrage. I’ve talked to some landowners that were in tears,” Katherine Peake, an area landowner who also serves as president of the Hill Country Land Trust, said. “I’m convinced it’s needed. It’s just how can we minimize the impact of the lines and the substation?”

Several proposed lines travel through the Hill Country Land Trust’s 1,650 acre easement in southeastern Gillespie County.

“I immediately felt that (proposed routes) would probably compromise the conservation’s values to have transmission lines over that,” Peake said. “Of course we didn’t want the lines across the easement property, but we felt like it wouldn’t be right to say ‘Put it on others’ property.’”

As of early Monday, the LCRA had received 121 project questionnaires filed following an open house on the proposal held May 15 by the Stonewall Chamber of Commerce.

“LCRA TSC will summarize the information gathered from the questionnaires and provide a summary with the CCN to the PUC,” LCRA Senior Communication Specialist Marcie Lasseigne said. “Generally speaking, landowners prefer to not have a transmission line on their property, but many understand the need for the project.”

Several potential routes go through property owned by area wineries, including Grape Creek Vineyards, Torre di Pietra and Becker Vineyards.

“Economic growth often drives the need for additional infrastructure.  According to CTEC and the LCRA, additional electric capacity is needed east of Fredericksburg,” Gillespie County Economic Development Commission executive director Tim Lehmberg said. “Hopefully CTEC, the LCRA and ultimately the PUC commissioners will be prudent regarding siting and do all that they can to minimize negative aesthetic and adverse economic impacts to the area.”

Several factors will be considered by the LCRA in determining route and substation location, Lasseigne said, including “the potential impact on the environment, land use, habitable structures and aesthetics.”

“Preliminary route segments connecting the end points have been identified and drawn to avoid constraints such as subdivisions, parks, etc. as much as possible,” she added. It is, of course, impossible to avoid all possible constraints.”

 

No preferences

 Route segments and alternate substation sites may be added, removed or changed throughout the course of the process, with the PUC expected to make a final decision late next year.

 “We can’t put a line on a piece of paper and say, this is the route,” Peterson said. “The commission wants options. The LCRA folks, having gone through this a number of times, asked me to sit down and identify a number of locations. I only did five and they came back to me and said you need a couple more.”

CTEC officials insist that though economic savings plays a factor for preference in route, the final decision rests solely in the hands of the PUC.

“David might have a preferred site and I might have a preferred route of what we think works the best,” Loth said.  “Obviously, the best place for us to locate that substation would be right in the center of those connections because it’s going to reduce the cost, but you’ve got to take into account the access and all the other issues.”

 

Misconceptions

Part of the concern voiced to CTEC stems from fears related to the lengthy battle to keep Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) lines out of Gillespie County several years ago, Loth said, adding that the Blumenthal substation has nothing to do with CREZ transmission.

“This is for Central Texas members and Central Texas members only,” Loth said. “This thing is not running to take care of people in San Antonio or Austin or the PEC. It would have to be industry-type growth that’s not going to come to Gillespie County. We’d have to add 100 H-E-B stores before (upgrading to CREZ transmission lines) and that’s just not going to happen.”

CTEC officials also warn that the project is still several years off and that the public has plenty of opportunities to have their voices heard.

“There’s still a misconception that this is a done deal,” Peterson said. “The misconception is that the open house is over; one of those routes is going to get picked and get built. This process is tremendously lengthy and this is just the starting block.”

Though the official deadline to submit project questionnaires has passed, interested parties may continue to voice their opinions on the project by contacting Lance Wenmohs, LCRA’s Siting and Certification Manager, via email at lance.wenmohs@lcra.org, at 800-776-5272, Ext. 4495, or 512-578-4495.

“Nothing is decided and the LCRA is gathering information,” Loth said. “If someone has concerns, they need to make sure that they are heard. I’m happy to talk to people, but the fact of the matter is that we have no more influence with the LCRA than you do.”

Additional information is also available at www.lcra.org/energy/electric-transmission/transmission-line-routing/Docu...

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