After much controversy, utility commission has chosen a transmission route from Leander to Round Rock

Utility commission approves route for Leander-Round Rock transmission lineThe Public Utility Commission of Texas voted in favor of a route for proposed transmission lines running from Round Rock to Cedar Park and Leander during a meeting May 18.

The two sitting commissioners on the Public Utility Commission of Texas were evaluating routes for a 138-kilovolt line that the Lower Colorado River Authority is looking to build. The line would connect two existing power substations—one in Round Rock and one in Leander—to two substations—one in Cedar Park and one in Leander. LCRA officials have stated the line is needed to address the area's growing demand for electricity.

The state utility commissioners voted unanimously to approve the LCRA’s LHO-1 transmission line route, which would be located along Hero Way, Ronald Reagan Boulevard and RM 1431.

The decision differs from the recommendation of an administrative law judge, who in March recommended route COL-1 to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which would have run along Hero Way, CR 175 and RM 1431. The judge recommended LHO-1 as a viable alternative route.

In May,  the mayors of Cedar Park, Leander and Round Rock sent letters to the commission recommending COL-1 as well, according to legal documents filed with the state utility commission.

The city of Round Rock initially voted for COL-1 as the desired path at a March 2016 meeting when Round Rock Neighborhood Services Coordinator Joe Brehm indicated it would be cheaper for LCRA and impact fewer homes than other proposed routes.

At the time, then-Mayor Alan McGraw said the council was trying to choose the "least worse" route.

During the May 4 state utility commission meeting, around 50 members of the public spoke before commissioners, and several criticized COL-1 for being planned along CR 175, which many said has housing. Commissioners also said they wanted to consider the alternative route, LHO-1.

“Of all the transmission lines I’ve worked on, this is absolutely among the most difficult,” state utility commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez said at the meeting on May 18.

She said she was leaning toward LHO-1 because it avoids the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, which sits along CR 175 almost to RM 1431 and encounters fewer habitable structures.

There are 428 habitable structures—defined as structures typically inhabited by people on a regular basis—within 300 feet of LHO-1’s right of way centerline, according to a land-use table from the LCRA. COL-1 had 452 habitable structures within the same distance.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas' hearing room was at full capacity during the meeting May 18. Many citizens in attendance had to stay in overflow rooms during the discussion.

The issue has typically been a divisive one. Tammy Young, who recently won her election for Place 1 on Round Rock City Council, was one of the homeowners who spoke out at the March 2016 council meeting.

"I just beg you not to support [COL-1] and to know there are hundreds and thousands of homeowners who will be affected," Young said.

The city of Round Rock stands by the decision to support COL-1 as it did in March 2016 but will continue working with LCRA during the design and construction phases of the project, according to city officials.

The LCRA will begin working on right of way and land acquisition. Construction of the facilities is scheduled to begin in January 2019, after the land is acquired, the transmission line’s design is finalized, and the materials and equipment are prepared, according to LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma.

The line is scheduled to be completed and energized by December 2019, according to the LCRA.