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La. dodges bullet on Wind Catcher

by Minden Press-Herald

If we needed any reminder why Texas outpaces Louisiana in so many ways, witness how the Lone Star State last week mooted a bad decision by the Louisiana Public Service Commission made in part by northwest Louisiana’s Foster Campbell.

In June, the PSC gave a green light to the Windcatcher Project. This would have spent $4.5 billion to build a wind farm and transmission line to provide power for Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Even though it would not have added power to the American Electric Power grid, as the company merely would have replaced nonrenewable-sourced power with this, ratepayers still would have footed the bill.

The company insisted despite that it would end up as a net benefit for customers over the long haul. It even threw in sweeteners, such as having large customers promise to buy that power.

This seemed enough to satisfy both the PSC and its Arkansas equivalent, which demonstrates either ignoring the sketchy revenue assumptions behind it or engaging in a lot of wishful thinking. Among those questionable suppositions: the proposal built in a presently nonexistent carbon tax by 2026, a gas price for 2021 the federal Energy Information Administration predicted would not be reached until 2046, and the sidelining of most other wind projects for years.

The corporation had to bake in such optimism because of the lengthy transmission line, which made the investment 40 percent more expensive than similar projects while reducing energy production efficiency by 8 percent. It also needed to beat the clock: it had to get this underway soon because of its dependence on federal subsidies needing renewal by 2020, something that looks increasingly unlikely.

But Democrat Campbell and all but one other commissioner waved off these concerns. Citing issues like these, only Capitol Area Republican Commissioner Craig Greene, elected just months ago to fill out a term, had the wisdom to vote against it.

Fortunately, Texas regulators showed a far better grasp of consumers’ best interests when its Public Utility Commission members unanimously denied expediting the process, in effect killing the project. The next day, AEP formally threw in the towel.

Perhaps not coincidentally, last month Greene qualified for election to a full six-year term without opposition.

Campbell’s chances of a free ride to another term by his vote that sided against the people in favor of a corporation that in his last campaign contributed to him more dollars than any other interest headed the opposite direction.

If Campbell even seeks what would be his fourth term. In 2017, he hardly raised any money but spent about twice that amount, leaving not much more than $10,000 in his campaign account – and marked on his campaign finance report “undecided” for office sought – for a contest that will cost hundreds of thousands. In 2011, also three years before an election, he raised, spent, and banked much more for what he indicated on the form as a reelection attempt.

Regardless, Texas saved Louisianans from the wrong choice made by Campbell and others.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.

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