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Electricity from Texas wind farms could cross Mississippi

By JACK WEATHERLY

Green energy is eyeing Mississippi again.

But this project is not another experiment that offers the state ground-floor entry into a new market.

Such as the failed cellulose-to-fuel KiOR plant or Mississippi Power’s idled coal-gas fuel-powered electricity generation plant.

Or the failure of two solar-panel manufacturing plants.

The taxpayer was left holding the bag in the failed solar plants, as well as the cellulose-to-fuel facility.

But the Southern Cross Transmission project would not rely on government funding – just its approval.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has found that the interconnection of the Southern Cross Project to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas system, which manages the flow of about 90 percent of the state’s electricity, is in the public interest.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission is expected to schedule hearings soon on a proposed certificate of convenience and necessity for a 200-mile transmission line that would cross 12 counties, carrying electricity generated by wind farms in Texas to Alabama and beyond, as well as Mississippi.

The Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club has given its blessing to the project.

“This cutting edge project will revolutionize the electric grid to deliver cost-competitive, clean, Texas wind energy to Mississippi and other Southeastern states by providing electricity to power Mississippi’s homes and businesses,” it said in a release.

“Wind energy is now recognized as the cheapest form of ‘fuel’ for generating electricity in the United States, and this project will bring this economic advantage to Mississippi electric customers.”

There’s plenty of interest from the vendor side in wanting the Southern Cross Transmission project to be built.

Vendor fairs held in Columbus and Ridgeland last week attracted about 120 potential contractors, bringing the total to about 500 when earlier fairs are included, said Adam Renz, director of government relations for the eastern region of the Pattern Energy Group.

Renz said that the construction phase would need about 650 workers and that there would be 30 full-time, permanent jobs when a $300 million station is built in Lowndes County to convert the direct power to indirect power.

A similar facility would be built in Louisiana near the Texas border in addition to 200 miles of transmission lines. Benefits for the Mississippi and Louisiana economy would be about $1.9 billion each over 30 years, according to Renz.

Any suspicions that the project is an effort to take advantage of the idled coal-gasification plant constructed by Mississippi Power are misguided, according to Denton Gibbes, Ridgeland-based, public relations man.

Gibbes said the Southern Cross project was first discussed in 2010, about the time that the Kemper plant was approved by the PSC, and thus could not have anticipated the troubles the coal-fired plant would encounter.

The preferred route would cross the Mississippi River and enter Issaquena County, then Washington, Sharkey, Humphreys, Holmes, Carroll, Montgomery, Choctaw, Oktibbeha, Clay and Monroe counties, ending in Lowndes County.

Boards of supervisors in all those counties have passed resolutions in favor of the project, according to Renz.

“The Southern Cross Transmission project will have a significant impact on our county tax revenues,” Bill Newsom, president of the Sharkey County Board of Supervisors, said in a prepared statement.

The lines would cross land owned by 1,500 individuals.

Out of that number, fewer than a dozen have voiced opposition the project, Renz said, adding that Pattern interviewd hundreds of them.

Denise Gatlin, who lives in Batesville, Ark., and is a second-generation owner of a Lowndes County farm, wrote in a letter on file with the PSC: “The proposed route would place the line directly over a approximate two acre pond. I had hoped to build a family cabin near this pond for weekend trips . . . or a catfish restaurant.”

Charles “Bert’ Darnell of Glen Allan wrote Southern Cross a letter dated May 22 that the route “would result in he loss of agriculture production, wildlife habitat and timber production.” Darnell said he is a third generation owner of the land where he lives and farms.

Should the PSC approve the project, landowners would face the possibility of their land being taken under eminent domain if an agreement on a price cannot be reached with the utility.

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