Water Pipeline Not Wind Power, Real Reason Pickens Can Build Transmission Lines

Transmission Line with Clouds

photo by Scott via flickr

Every once in a while a writer has to do a mea culpa, and this is one of those times. I don't know why I didn't pick up this angle of the ongoing saga of T. Boone Pickens' gigantic wind project. We had mentioned it in passing before, but the reason that Picken's Mesa Power is spending $2 billion to build the transmission capacity to bring their wind-generated electricity to market probably has little to do with public regulators being slow as Pickens implied in a radio interview and everything to do with another of Pickens' companies.Pickens has long pumped water from the Ogallala Aquifer through his company Mesa Water, but has recently formed an itsy-bitsy eight acre water district (populated not coincidentally by people firmly in Pickens' pocket) which will finance the construction of a $2.2 billion water pipeline running into the the Dallas-Ft Worth metro area from the Panhandle. Electric transmission will run above this.

Texas Panhandle

The southern part of the Ogallala Aquifer runs under the Texas Panhandle. Photo by Diana via flickr.
New Texas legislation makes it possible
Up until last year this wouldn't have been possible under Texas law, but during the last session of the state legislature a new law was passed which allows renewable and clean-coal energy projects to obtain public rights of way by piggybacking on a fresh water district's ability to claim land for water pipelines—by eminent domain if necessary. A water transmission pipeline can be built underground and the transmission lines can run above it.

In doing this Pickens can reduce the time required for permitting and obtaining rights of way, reducing his exposure to regulatory risk, and potential save a good deal of money in the process. And in the end hopefully create a healthy profit for himself.

Eminent domain raises concerns along the route
It seems quite efficient really, but the thought of land being seized through eminent domain raises people's hackles like little else. Last month residents along the route received letters explaining that their lands may be disturbed.

Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger was quoted in the Avalanche-Journal as saying that his office receives calls from area residents who are concerned their land will be seized and don't see the benefit of a pipeline which will be drawing water from the depleting Ogallala Aquifer.

In the same article, Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan "felt the freshwater district seemed little more than an alter ego Mesa Power. Dallas had more closer and cost-effective ways to solve its water problems without using a plan pushed by a private company."

Even though Pickens does not yet have a buyer for all this water or electricty—north Texas water providers have expressed little interest in the project—by combining the water and electric transmission into a single right of way construction can begin more quickly on whichever part of the project first has an outlet. At this point that appears to be the electricity.

Wind Power Record Distracts From the Details?
There's an entire political component to this project concerning the degree to which Pickens may be exploiting the Texas political process for private gain, which I won't go into here given the enviro-focus of this website.

That said, I am left asking myself why the green media have neglected this aspect of Pickens' wind-farm plans? Have we been so distracted by the prospect of Texas' renewable energy portfolio growing by 4000 MW that we are willing to overlook some potentially dodgy aspects to the project?

Private investment in renewables will be key for them to reach their full potential, but is manipulating the system to gain greater private profit justifiable just because the outcome is green?

:: Avalanche-Journal | :: Bloomberg.com | :: Times Record News
Thanks to reader Jeffry Foster who brought this aspect of this important wind project to my attention.
Wind Power in Texas
Wind Farms in Texas Expand, Will Transmission Capacity Be There?
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T. Boone Pickens Gets Into The Texas Wind: 4,000 Megawatts Worth
Why Wind? T. Boone Pickens Speaks

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