Dr. Dwight Mercer answers questions about health concerns related to power lines during a public hearing Tuesday in Pattison. Pictured next to him are Matthew Cox, Stephen Hirst, and John Kellum of CenterPoint Energy.
By Joe Southern
PATTISON – Opponents of proposed power lines that would cross Waller County questioned representatives of CenterPoint Energy, the Texas Public Utilities Commission and other agencies Tuesday night in a special workshop of the Waller County Commissioners Court.
Landowners fearing having their property taken and/or reduced in value due to the high-voltage towers peppered the panel with questions following their presentation about the need for the transmission lines. Though the tone of the meeting was cordial, the message was clear.
“What is the best way we landowners can stop the project?” asked a member from the audience.
The question drew some laughs, but it was what nearly everyone in the audience wanted to know.
“Make your voices heard at the PUC (hearing),” said John Kellum of CenterPoint Energy. “If you intervene, you get a seat at the table.”
It was explained earlier by Muhammad Ally of the PUC that people can oppose a project in two ways. First, they can be heard as a protester, but none of their information will be used in the process to make a ruling. A protester will be heard, but no questions asked of them.
Second, they can become an intervener. That allows them to submit evidence in opposition to the project. It also means they can be questioned while on the stand.
Ally began the workshop by explaining the year-long process it takes for a utility company to go from application to approval.
CenterPoint Energy wants to build large 345kV transmission lines from its substation in Fayetteville to its Zenith station near Houston to service its customers in the Houston area, including some in Waller County. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) ruled last August that there is a need for the project and estimated the savings to CenterPoint Energy and its customers at $45 million a year.
Kellum said CenterPoint Energy expects to file its application with the PUC in August or September. It is currently holding public meetings in Austin, Waller and Harris counties to gather information and to analyze primary and alternative routes. After the company applies for its Certificate of Convenience and Need (CCN), notices are mailed out to all affected landowners within 500 feet of each of the route alternatives. County and municipal governments will also be notified.
Ally said that after the application is made, it is studied independently by PUC staff and administrators. At this point people can request to comment as a protester or to present evidence as an intervener. There is a period of time to allow for further review and staff recommendation before the case goes before a PUC judge.
The judge can approve it, approve it with modifications or deny it. His decision is final. If approved, CenterPoint Energy would then proceed with acquiring the land or right-of-way and then construct its lines. Kellum said the company, if approved, anticipates land acquisition to begin in September of 2012 and for the project to be complete in December 2014.
Jim Spurgeon of CenterPoint Energy explained the acquisition process, noting that an independent appraiser will determine the property value. He said landowners can choose to keep their property and sell the right-of-way or they can sell the land outright.
There were several questions raised about health concerns related to the electromagnetic field (EMF) generated around power lines. Dr. H. Dwight Mercer said the PUC conducted a study in 1992 of 35 epidemiological studies which determined there is no direct correlation with EMF exposure and leukemia or other health hazards.
He said most people have greater exposure to EMF from appliances in their own homes than they do from brief exposure to power lines. He also said that in 2002 that the National Institute of Environmental Health conducted a “mega-study” of 160 national and international studies of EMF done since the 1970s. It determined that there can be damage done if there is prolonged exposure near the lines, but no significant damage from brief EMF contact on the perimeter of the field.
The CenterPoint Energy representatives pointed out that the company does not generate electricity, so the option of building a power generation plant closer to Houston was not an option. They said the proposed routes are along existing right-of-ways, highways, property lines and such in order to minimize the impact on landowners.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Waller County Judge Glenn Beckendorff commented about the quality of life in the county and the impact the company will have on it.
“What we ask in Waller County is that you be a good neighbor because we’ve all worked hard for this,” he said.
For more information about CenterPoint Energy’s proposal, visit www.centerpointenergy.com/fzproject.
Citizens for a Better Waller County, the grassroots organization opposing the project, has its own information available at www.wallercountytexas.com