-NextEra- No stopping the line

But can the line at least be buried?


Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Not much has been heard locally of late about the high-voltage transmission line that NextEra proposes to install across Jefferson County. At least, not since county commissioners hired an attorney to negotiate with the energy company on their behalf.
Attorney David Collins, whom the commission hired in mid-August to represent the county's interest, apparently has been in touch with the NextEra people.
“I know that David has been in contact with NextEra,” said County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Barfield in an email to the Monticello News on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Barfield, however, did not share what Collins has been able to accomplish in his talks with the utility company, if anything. And judging from Barfield's cryptic remarks, a tone of resignation seems to inform the commission's actions.
“While we realize there is not much that we can do to stop the utility, we have asked that sections (of the line) be buried, especially on the Waukeenah Highway,” Barfield emailed.
Barfield, however, gave no indication how NextEra may have responded to the request. Nor did Commissioner Stephen Walker, who confirmed Collins' ongoing negotiations and the request to bury the high-voltage line. the And Collins is playing it close to the vest, insofar as not returning calls from the Monticello News.
He, however, has held at least one executive session with commissioners to inform then of the goings on. But what the discussion entailed remains privileged information for the time being.
Barfield in her email indicated that the board had no plan to take up the NextEra issue anytime soon.
“We don't have anything new and I don't believe it will be discussed on Thursday,” she emailed, referring to the board's scheduled meeting on Thursday evening, Oct. 5.
The City of Tallahassee, meanwhile, has voted to allow NextEra to collocate on its easement and also allow it to increase the line to 230 kilowatts, confirming a suspicion long held by the project's opponents.
“NextEra never intended to run a161kv line,” emailed Catherine DeLoney, an affected property owner and vocal opponent of the project. “They (161kv line) were too small for their purpose and not used anywhere else. The city allowing this also allows NextEra to avoid review by the Public Service Commission and transmission line siting authority (which would allow for public input and alternate routes input).  It's frustrating and maddening that they purposely applied for the 161kv because they avoided a lot of normal review and regulations and now because of Tallahassee's approval they can increase to the 230kv without any red flags. Corruption at its finest at the expense of us people who live here and gain nothing.”
If there's a sliver of hope anywhere for concerned property owners is that that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) recently raised questions about NextEra's permit application. After reviewing the energy company's lengthy document, the department reportedly found it incomplete.
The FDEP pointed to 14 issues with the application, the Tallahassee Democrat reported on Sept. 11.
The issues the FDEP cited included missing details relative to wetland impact, mitigation efforts on sensitive lands crossed by the project and design nuances, as well as two significant findings.
First, the FDEP found that whatever potential public good the project holds, the company had failed to explain it adequately in its application. The FDEP asked NextEra to state clearly how the project will benefit the public.
Second, the state agency wrote that the company had to complete negotiations with the affected landowners before the project could proceed forward.
The state agency gave NextEra until Nov. 25 to respond to the 14 issues, which a FDEP spokesman characterized as “a normal and routine part of the application process."
The high voltage transmission line aims to connect a Florida Power and Light (FPL) substation in Columbia County to a Gulf Power substation in Jackson County. NextEra is the parent company of FPL and Gulf Power.
The line would enter Jefferson County from Madison County alongside I-10, follow the Waukeenah Highway south to the Florida Gas Transmission (FGT) pipeline easement south of Tram Road and go west into Leon County.
Local officials have suggested that NextEra change the route so that the line instead travels south on U.S. 19 to U.S 27, west on U.S. 27 to just past Cody Church Road, then cuts across the St. Marks Park and goes along the FGT pipeline easement into Leon County. But apparently, judging from Barfield's remark of about asking NextEra to bury the line along Waukeenah Highway, the energy company has rejected the U.S. 19/U.S. 27 route.