Held hostage by the University Lands System
By CINDY EDWARDS
No matter what side of the fence you’re on politically, most can agree that the little guy usually doesn’t stand a chance, when it comes to standing up against a quasi-governmental agency. Yet, Rio Grande Electric Co-op continues to fight, on behalf of its member-owners, against unfairly assessed lease of utility easements through land in West Texas, which is controlled by the University of Texas System.
Because the lease easements are granted in 10-year increments, there is the potential for great fluctuation with each lease cycle. Case in point: in 1954, when the Co-op built a 35-mile transmission line to serve rural areas in Hudspeth County, the cost of the easement was 49 cents per rod, and 35 miles equals about 11,075 rods. 49 cents per mile was “doable” and folks out in Hudspeth County needed power, so Rio Grande spent considerable time and money investing in the infrastructure to serve them.
Flash forward to 1974, the cost was $1.15 per rod, for an increase of 135%. Another 10 year cycle, and in 1984, the price per rod jumped to $4 per rod, which was a 250% increase. You guessed it, 1994 was no exception. When it came time to renew, the price went to $5 per rod – another 25% increase. But no amount of planning could have prepared the not-for-profit Rio Grande Electric Co-op for what was to happen at the next renewal –
From $5 per rod, the price jumped to a whopping $20 per rod in 2004. From a total renewal cost of $55,376 to $221,506 for the exact same line in the exact same location. This represents a 300% increase from the previous renewal.
Moving the line really isn’t an option, because one mile of transmission line costs approximately $1 million. In essence, once a utility makes the initial investment, it is literally “held hostage” in perpetuity, seemingly without recourse.
Unless something is done – and soon – the current pricing schedule sets the 2024 renewal of the Hudspeth County transmission line lease at $48 per rod. The total renewal cost of this particular easement alone will go from $221,506 to $531,615, or a 140% increase.
The Co-op also has 35 additional easements through UT Lands, so the ransom demands could increase exponentially.
Several state legislators have taken notice, recognizing the inequality and lack of appeals process. Rep. Tracy O. King filed House Bill 1882, relating to the management of university land by the University of Texas System. Joint authors of the bill are Poncho Nevarez and Mary Gonzalez. The bill went to the House Committee on Land & Resource Management March 13. Members of the committee, in addition to King, Nevarez, and Gonzalez, are Rep. Abel Herrero (Dist. 34, Corpus Christi), Rep. Cecil Bell (Dist. 3, Magnolia), Rep. Ernest Bailes (Dist. 18, Shepherd) Rep. Cesar Blanco (Dist. 76, El Paso), Rep. Wayne Faircloth (Dist. 23, Galveston), Rep. Matt Krause (Dist. 93, Ft. Worth), and Rep. Lynn Stucky (Dist. 64, Denton).
To weigh in on the issue with legislators on the committee, please go to www.riogrande.coop and click on the “University Lands Issue” button. There, you can leave comments, which will be submitted to committee members on your behalf. Be sure to include your contact information, if you would like for their respective offices to get in touch with you.
Cindy Edwards is Communications Coordinator for the Rio Grande Electric Cooperative Inc. and is based in Brackettville.