How Texas Power Regulators Should Balance Landlords' Rights

How Texas Power Regulators Should Balance Landlords’ Rights

The power of your home may have traveled hundreds of miles. KVUE advocates have discovered that we don’t have enough and it may be years before we see a fix.

AUSTIN, TX – Farm life is a huge responsibility for Rancher Wheat Jones.

Founded in 1890, Jones preserves valuable South Texas lands and keeps livestock healthy. His family founded the farm in 1890.

“We can sit and talk about it all day,” Jones said.

The farm is more than an income, it’s more than a family heirloom — and the energy companies want a piece of it.

“We are supplied almost annually with either a potential railroad or a new transmission line,” Jones said.

The farm is located in Jim Hogg County, near the Mexico border. Department of Energy (DOE) data shows that this area is typically sunny and windy, and ranked for renewable energy.

Joshua Rhodes, PhD, research associate at the Webber Energy Group/Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin: “I think we need to play a catch-up role.”

A deadly winter storm in February 2021 left millions without electricity. Temperatures remained in the single digits for several days. Hundreds died. Investigations revealed that power plants and natural gas lines were not handled properly.

In short, the state needs more power.

“If you look at the power plants that are trying to be built into the system right now, you will find that there is a lot of wind and solar because that is the cheapest thing that can be built and there is a huge demand for it,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said there are more places to build wind and solar power. We need more ways to get that energy across the state.

“It was turned into high-voltage alternating current that was put on these big, long metallic ropes held by these big poles. Then it went all the way from there to here,” Rhodes said.

These poles and ropes, called transmission lines, carry wind and solar energy to a substation. There, the electricity is converted to lower voltages to reach homes.

As more people arrive in Texas, the demand for electricity in the state is increasing. Electricity companies and power generators need efficient and reliable transmission lines to transmit large amounts of energy.

Increased demand can cause congestion in lines. Congestion costs consumers more money and threatens reliability.

The projects take years of planning, obtaining easements, permits, and building.

“We want to enhance the reliability of the network. If we learn anything about the February storms, we need to fix things,” said Patrick Resnick, attorney at Braun & Gresham, PLLC.

Resnick and attorney Carly Barton said the companies first identified dozens of potential sites to build transmission lines. Considerations include environmental impact, homes, and cost. Power lines run through private property. It can put owners on edge

“What will you do with the land? How will it be damaged? How will it depreciate?” Resnick said.

Land can be taken by force.

“Once the route is determined for the transmission line, it enters into condemnation. It is the only time a landowner will ever get compensation for this easement that will never go away,” Barton said.

An easement gives the right to use someone else’s land. Landowners still own the land but companies can build whatever they want, as long as they meet the terms of the easement.

“There is definitely room for compromise,” Barton said.

The Texas Public Utilities Commission balances state needs, company spending, and the interests of landowners. Landowners may support a transmission line but require a specific structure.

“My support was for 16 miles on the condition that the monocoques were used,” landowner Scott Roots told the PUC commissioners.

Roots said he’s a farmer, and the mesh structures would hurt his business because he wouldn’t be able to use his tractor around. The commissioners allowed the grid structures in order to save the estimated cost.

Everyone has a utility bill that splits the price of transmission and maintenance lines.

“I understand the importance of [transmission lines]. It’s just annoying, said Jones, because you don’t have much choice about whether or not you want them.

Jones fought against a relocation project set to infiltrate the middle of his ranch. business will lose.

“It basically consumed me for about two years,” Jones said.

Jones and Resnick found other landowners who wanted to sell the easements. They proposed a new route for the lines and at a lower cost.

“The transmission line itself is not such a problem. The issue is about what follows the transmission line. In today’s world, it’s more likely to be wind farms,” Jones said.

Large wind turbines line the southern Texas landscape.

“It’s kind of a moral puzzle because when you bring up these things, not only do you bring up and they affect you, but you also affect your neighbor and everyone else who has to look at them and deal with them,” Jones said.

A Long-Term West Texas report for the Texas Power Grid Manager states that the state needs “technologies beyond typical 345-kV circuit additions.” PUC is currently studying how to use distributed energy resources as an additional service.

“I think we’d be better off if we took a technology-neutral approach, if we didn’t delegate certain technologies, if we imposed a certain level of reliability on the system,” Rhodes said.

Jones sells some energy from his land, and DOE researchers are working on geothermal projects. He said he would consider setting up solar farms.

“We value green energy like everyone else, but it has to work,” Jones said.

These projects can lead to more transmission lines.

Our goal is not to close it. Our goal is, let’s be very thoughtful about how we’re going to do it. This is our property. These are our homes. Jones said.

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