Speakers discuss alternatives to SWEPCO plans

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Members of a public panel strongly were strongly opposed to the proposed SWEPCO high-voltage transmission line from Shipe Road to the Kings River at a forum last Wednesday at the Eureka Springs Auditorium.

SWEPCO Public Relations Director Peter Main was invited to the meeting but declined the invitation. Topics included concerns with the forests, fire hazards, noise, water contamination, health risks for people, pets and wildlife, preserving the beauty of the Ozarks, distributed solar energy alternatives, and energy dreams for the future of the Ozarks.

The scheduled "one-hour meeting" lasted two and half hours due to the high interest and the information provided. Panel members explained that there is no Public Need shown in the SWEPCO Application and that the Environmental Impact Study ignores the fact that people, pets and wildlife live in the Ozarks, and that no terrestrial visits have been performed prior to choosing the six routes.

John Two-Hawks, a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated musician and a longtime resident of Eureka Springs, talked about our obligation to take care of Mother Earth, our forests and all living things. JTH mentioned the dangers that we take when we blindly meddle with the ecosystem and destroy the balance of nature and wildlife; "it is widely known by ecologists and scientists alike that clear cutting forests fatally isolates certain fragile species," he said.

"In just one of many examples, wolves are known to choose the forest on one side or the other when a right of way is cleared of trees and sprayed with herbicides for a highway or transmission line, thus permanently altering their means for survival," Two-Hawks said. "And there are many other well documented threats to natural habitat and ecosystems that are posed by all that comes with building and maintaining transmission lines."

Two-Hawks said he is stunned that SWEPCO would even consider razing, poisoning and blazing a massive swath right through the middle of the pristine natural forests of this area, and he is deeply concerned with the cultural impact for the citizens of the Ozarks that would come from a sense of powerlessness if the APSC grants a public corporation the power of Eminent Domain to take whatever property they choose from the rightful land owners.

Rick Bost, a retired Oklahoma Fire Captain for 27 years, spoke about the hazards of fires from high-voltage transmission lines that can be hit by tornadoes, hurricanes and ice storms. He said when the forests are clear-cut for the ROW, often the debris is burned on-site to save money, creating fire hazards. When lines come down for any reason and start a fire, it puts the lives of volunteer firefighters at risk, he noted.

"We do not have the resources to stop a forest fire," he added. Bost showed videos from the Bastrop fire in Texas, caused by a tree hitting a high-voltage transmission line. The fire -- the largest in the history of the state -- killed two people and destroyed 1,691 homes, with an estimated cost of over $350 million.

Edward Robison, a well-known leader in environmental issues in the region, professional nature photographer and owner of Sacred Earth Gallery, turned his eye on the beauty of the Ozarks. Robison showed photo-shopped images of the transmission lines over photos he has taken of the most beautiful areas along the six routes proposed by SWEPCO.

Dr. Luis Contreras, an experienced business strategy consultant previously with Accenture Consulting and professor at the SMU Graduate School of Business, stated that there are "safer, sustainable and more economic alternatives," based on photo voltaic (PV) distributed solar panels that are installed at the point of use with no need for transmission lines.

Contreras mentioned that he has been in contact with Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the leading non-profit alternative energy institute that is partnering with the government of China in their five-year energy program, based on Distributed Solar Power.

Contreras said the total life cycle cost over the lifespan of the transmission line is grossly underestimated by Brian Johnson of SWEPCO at $117 million dollars. The real cost to consumers according to Contreras will be at least ten times that amount over the life of the line when you include repairs, maintenance, upgrades and class action lawsuits which would total at least $1 Billion dollars.

"Only SWEPCO and lawyers profit," he said. "Our economy can't afford this unnecessary transmission line."

Two-Hawks closed the meeting by talking about local residents' dreams. He stated that he dreams of a future for the Ozarks with distributed Solar Power and energy that is clean and sustainable, where trees are not arbitrarily cut down and in which Mother Earth and her people and animals are protected -- a world without fear, no climate change, no dead coalminers, no dirty air, no devastated lands, no lost wildlife, no terrorists, nothing to run out of, nothing to worry about. Just energy abundance, benign, affordable, for all, forever.

Respecting the earth is the key, Two-Hawks explained. "In order for our dreams to come true we need to respect even an ant."

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