PUC Approval

1. When was the CCN approved by the PUC and which route did they approve?New

The CCN was approved by the PUC on January 15, 2016 for the construction of Route 1A-Modified.  Route 1A-Modified consists of route segments B-F-LA-I3-LD-N1A-K3-N1C-H2-V2A-L3-A3-C3-D3A-M3-O3-P3-Q3-R3 and is approximately 58.7 miles long. Route 1A-modified begins at CenterPoint Energy’s existing Zenith Substation, located southwest of Cypress, Texas northwest of the intersection of FM 529 (Freeman Road) and Grand Parkway (SH 99). The route generally follows the existing 345 kV transmission line north and turns due west about one-mile north of Hwy 30, and terminates at the Gibbons Creek Substation.

The PUC modified its final order on April 28, 2016 to require the line be constructed with monopoles with an exception for alternative tower structures inside electric utility substations.

Overview

2. Who is CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC?

CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC (CenterPoint Energy) is an electric utility that maintains the wires, towers, poles, and electric infrastructure serving more than two million end-use customers in a 5,000-square-mile electric service territory in the Houston metropolitan area. While CenterPoint Energy’s employees ensure the reliable delivery of power from power plants to homes and businesses, the Company neither generates power nor sells it to customers.

3. What is the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC)?

The PUC is the state agency that was created by the Texas Legislature to provide statewide regulation of the rates and services of electric, telecommunication, and water utilities.

4. What is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)?

ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to 23 million Texas customers - representing 85 percent of the state's electric load. As the independent system operator for the region, ERCOT oversees activities related to the reliable and safe transmission of electricity by scheduling power on an electric grid that connects 40,500 miles of transmission lines and more than 550 generation units. ERCOT is a membership-based nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the PUC and the Texas Legislature. ERCOT's members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities (transmission and distribution providers), and municipal-owned electric utilities.

5. What are electric transmission lines?

Electric transmission lines are a part of the interconnected power system that moves electricity from all generating stations to substations, where the electricity is reduced in voltage and then delivered to end-use consumers over the distribution system that connects to businesses and homes. Electric transmission lines are larger, operate at higher voltages, and typically convey electricity over longer distances. Electric distribution lines are smaller, operate at lower voltages, and convey electricity over shorter distances within cities and neighborhoods.

6. What is the difference between the Houston Import Project and the Brazos Valley Connection?

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) identified and confirmed a need for a transmission line project from the Zenith Substation in Harris County to the Limestone Substation in Limestone County. It was referred to by ERCOT as the Houston Import Project.

CenterPoint Energy was identified as the utility to develop and construct the southern portion between Harris and Grimes Counties of the larger Houston Import Project. Once notified, CenterPoint Energy named this segment The Brazos Valley Connection.

The northern portion of the project, from Grimes to Limestone Counties, is being developed and constructed by Cross Texas Transmission and the City of Garland.

The Need

7. Why is a new electric transmission line needed?

Electric transmission lines are an essential part of the facilities necessary to deliver electricity throughout Texas. Specifically, electric transmission facilities are necessary to deliver electricity to large population centers, such as the Houston region, from generating plants located long distances from cities and towns. Economic and population growth could greatly strain the Houston region’s existing reliable electric infrastructure. To meet the growing demand for electricity in the coming years, new electric transmission lines must be built to access power located in other parts of the ERCOT region. Like a congested freeway, a new electric transmission line will help relieve congestion on existing electric transmission lines while bringing reliable power into the Houston region.

Houston is currently importing a significant portion of its power over long, high voltage transmission lines. The findings of recent ERCOT studies conclude that additional capacity to import power into the Houston region is necessary to keep pace with demand. According to ERCOT, the need for imported electricity is projected to exceed current transmission capacity by 2018. The Texas Association of Manufacturers (TAM), which represents over 450 large and small companies from every manufacturing sector, employing more than 894,000 Texans, has spoken in support of this project. Moreover, power generators outside of the Houston region are in favor of the project.

Additional benefits for the electric transmission grid in the ERCOT region will also be achieved. The Houston region not only includes the 4th largest city in the United States, it also encompasses the Texas Medical Center, the headquarters of 25 Fortune 500 Companies, four major universities, the Port of Houston, Houston's 911 Call and Emergency Center, the Harris County Transit Control Center, the United States Veterans Affairs hospitals, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facility south of Houston, and significant petrochemical plants, refineries, cogeneration facilities, and pipelines. The nature and amount of essential energy and petrochemical infrastructure located in the Houston region make electric reliability absolutely essential to the vitality and security of Texas and the nation.

8. How will the new electric transmission line benefit areas outside of the Greater Houston region?

Because the new electric transmission line will be interconnected to ERCOT’s state-wide transmission grid, the project will also have added benefits, including:

  • Improving transmission grid reliability by reducing the possibility of system-wide cascading outage events that could lead to involuntary load loss in the ERCOT system even outside the Houston region;
  • Improving emergency power response capability through the addition of new electric transmission lines to transport power to other areas, such as delivering emergency power to the areas around Bryan/College Station and Dallas during extremely cold or icy weather;
  • Maintaining and perhaps even increasing the potential for economic growth outside the Houston region from businesses and industries that benefit from the Houston region’s robust economy that relies on the transmission delivery of reliable power; and
  • Increasing the use of ERCOT’s existing transmission system provides access to statewide generation sources, which may be outside or remote to the Houston region.

The Process

9. How did ERCOT determine the need for the new electric transmission line?

CenterPoint Energy performed a study to consider the import needs for the Houston area based on planning criteria for ERCOT and CenterPoint Energy. The study indicated that there is a need for additional import capacity starting in 2018 to ensure reliable power. CenterPoint Energy considered 25 alternatives to address the need to import power, and it ultimately proposed three alternative projects for ERCOT consideration. CenterPoint Energy submitted the study to ERCOT for review and approval in July of 2013. The ERCOT Staff sought input from the ERCOT Regional Planning Group. After considering input from the Regional Planning Group, the ERCOT Staff recommended the construction of the proposed Limestone-Gibbons Creek-Zenith 345 kV double circuit transmission line, also referred to as the Houston Import Project. The ERCOT Staff recommendation was considered by the Technical Advisory Committee and the ERCOT Board of Directors. The project was endorsed by the ERCOT Board of Directors in April 2014. CenterPoint Energy was designated as the transmission utility responsible for constructing the southern half of the Houston Import Project, between the Zenith and Gibbons Creek substations, known as the Brazos Valley Connection.

10. What was the process for the approval of the Brazos Valley Connection electric transmission line and where will it be located?

CenterPoint Energy has gathered input from the community and other sources for a routing study and environmental assessment between the Zenith Substation in Harris County and the Gibbons Creek Substation in Grimes County. Now that information gathering and the public meeting process has concluded, CenterPoint Energy has prepared and filed an Application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) for a proposed electric transmission line at the PUC. The application includes multiple routing alternatives for the transmission line between the two substations. The PUC will decide whether the application should be approved and, if approved, which route will be constructed.

11. What were the considerations involved in selecting a route for the electric transmission line?

The PUC considers many factors in deciding whether to approve a proposed electric transmission line, including community values, recreational and park areas, historic and aesthetic values, and environmental integrity. They also consider specific routing criteria for new lines, including whether the route utilizes or parallels compatible rights-of-way such as following existing electric transmission lines, roads, pipelines, property lines, natural features, and cultural features. CenterPoint Energy has gathered information about these routing factors and included them in the CCN application that was filed at the PUC.

12. Why did CenterPoint Energy hold public meetings for the Brazos Valley Connection Project?

Although the PUC requires that a utility hold at least one public meeting for new transmission projects like the Brazos Valley Connection, CenterPoint Energy held four public meetings in three varied locations accessible to each of the three counties (Grimes, Harris, and Waller) where the project is to be constructed. The two primary reasons for holding the meetings were: 1) to share information about the proposed transmission line with landowners and other members of the public; and 2) to gather information from landowners and other interested parties about the routing of the proposed transmission line as well as address any concerns or questions from attendees. The individuals who attended the public meetings had an opportunity to make comments, ask questions, and express any concerns that they might have about the routes under consideration. Representatives from CenterPoint Energy and POWER Engineers, Inc. were available to answer questions.

13. How has CenterPoint Energy compensated landowners if it is necessary for the transmission line to cross their property?

CenterPoint Energy will make a bona fide offer to the landowner based on the fair market value of the land when purchasing right-of-way in accordance with Texas law and will provide landowners with a copy of The State of Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights. If the parties do not agree on the fair market value of the property, the fair market value will be determined in a condemnation proceeding where special commissioners, appointed by a judge, will determine the fair market value of the property following a hearing where all interested parties are entitled to provide evidence of valuation.

The Scenarios

14. If new power plants are built in the ERCOT region, will the electric transmission line still be needed?

Even if the rest of the ERCOT region achieves adequate generation resources, the Houston region could be left without sufficient power resources. Unless additional transmission capacity is built soon, we believe there is a strong possibility that the residents and economy in the Houston region could be negatively impacted.

15. Why does the line need to be in service to avoid electric reliability issues in the Greater Houston region?

ERCOT has identified and confirmed a need for an additional electric transmission line into the Houston area. The two driving factors that contribute to this need are growing demand and insufficient power resources in the area. Demand in the Houston region will exceed available supply by 2018, and with limited commitments for new generation planned in the Houston area, transmission must be constructed to provide additional capacity to import power.

About the Brazos Valley Connection

16. Will the power that flows across the new electric transmission line come from the wind generation in Texas or from other power plants?

The electric transmission line will transport power from the multitude of generation sources interconnected in the ERCOT transmission grid. The electric transmission line is not intended to interconnect a specific generator; rather it is intended to provide an additional power pathway into the Greater Houston region to maintain reliable electric service.

17. What type of structures will be used for Brazos Valley Connection?

CenterPoint Energy has proposed using double-circuit steel monopoles in a vertical configuration that are approximately 149 to 169 feet tall in a new 90- foot wide right-of-way.

18. When will construction tentatively begin and when will construction be completed on the Brazos Valley Connection?

CenterPoint Energy filed the CCN application with the PUC on April 24, 2015. The CCN was approved by the PUC on January 15, 2016 for the construction of Route 1A-Modified and later modified its final order on April 28, 2016 to require the line be constructed with monopoles with an exception for alternative tower structures inside electric utility substations. CenterPoint Energy began construction in February 2017 and expects to complete construction and energize the Brazos Valley Connection by June 2018.

The PUC Process

19. How can landowners participate in the PUC process?

One way landowners became involved in the case before the PUC was to intervene in the proceeding. An intervenor is a person who, upon showing a justiciable interest, is permitted to become a party to the proceeding. Intervenors are full participants in the proceeding and make legal arguments, conduct discovery, file testimony, cross examine witnesses, and whose witnesses are subject to cross-examination by the other parties in the case. You must file a document requesting to intervene with the PUC that conforms to the rules and practices of the PUC, and mail the motion to all parties of record in the proceeding. The request to intervene can be in the form of a letter and must have been filed with the PUC by the docket intervention date of June 8, 2015.

Although public comments are not sworn and therefore not treated as evidence, they help inform the PUC and its staff of the public concerns and to identify issues to be explored. The PUC welcomed such participation in its proceedings. For reference, the case is Docket No. 44547 with the PUC.

Response to Arguments Against

20. Can CenterPoint Energy simply update and increase capacity of the current transmission line in the existing right of way?

No. CenterPoint Energy has already deployed the maximum feasible upgrades. The original 345kV transmission line was built in 1963 with state of the art twin-bundle steel reinforced aluminum conductors. In 2004, the line capacity was increased by almost an additional 30%.

The new line must carry at least double the capacity of the existing line which means that both the existing towers and wires would have to be replaced. ERCOT did not find this option feasible to construct nor comparable in reliability. It was also $110 million more expensive than ERCOT’s recommended project. Rebuilding the towers requires taking the lines out of service at peak times for reconstruction periods of 12 to 18 months. ERCOT determined that taking the existing line out of service would put the Texas transmission grid at a high risk of cascading outages. The outage of the existing line could also lead to higher congestion costs, further increasing the price of power in Houston.

Imagine a highway such as I-10 or Hwy 290 being closed for 12 to 18 months to rebuild it for higher capacity stacked lanes. The existing structures are demolished to make way for all new pillars, beams and high capacity express lanes. Traffic congestion on alternate highways clog with higher than usual volumes of traffic, creating higher risk for accidents. Building a new highway is a better plan. So is building a new transmission line.

21. Isn’t the Houston Import Project just a way for the utilities to increase revenues?

No. The driving force behind the construction of the project is reliability. CenterPoint Energy has an obligation to serve its customers that is established by statute and which is overseen by the PUC. Utilities, including CenterPoint Energy, do earn an overall regulated rate of return on transmission assets. However, before utilities can earn a return on new assets, they must put the asset to use providing electric service and the PUC must review and approve the associated costs. Additionally, transmission costs are recovered through “postage stamp” rates that are shared by retail customers throughout ERCOT. The costs for the Project would not be reflected in customer rates until sometime after completion of the Project in 2018.

22. Why are generators opposed to the Houston Import Project, often referring to it as “the transmission line to nowhere?”

Generators within Houston believe that the Houston Import Project could lower the price of power in Houston by alleviating the current congested conditions and providing other generators outside of Houston access to the Houston market. The potential for lower prices could impact the Houston generators’ bottom line.