PUC hearing raises questions about power line project in York, Franklin counties
Regulators in Harrisburg this week raised questions about the need for a proposed new power line project in York and Franklin counties.
During a second prehearing conference before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Monday, July 9, a PPL Electric representative said the company's existing infrastructure could accommodate the goal of moving more power from the northern U.S. to the south.
In response to a question, PPL counsel Amy Hirakis told administrative law judges Elizabeth Barnes and Andrew Calvelli "it's feasible to use existing PPL right-of-way and facilities for the market efficiency project identified by the PJM Interconnection."
Joe Nixon, PPL strategic communications manager, also confirmed "our existing transmission lines in the York County area has the capacity to carry additional circuits."
"PPL proposed an alternative market efficiency project to address the issue identified by PJM, but ours was not the selected solution," Nixon explained. "PJM awarded the project to Transource. We always look at the least impact to landowners in developing solutions."
PJM, the regional transmission grid operator that hired Transource to oversee the "Independence Energy Connection" project, cited the need for the project to alleviate trapped energy in the north by building a new transmission line that would allow it to flow south.
“Transource needs to acquire new easements over property in York County and build an entirely new (high-voltage) line,” PPL attorneys Kimberly Klock and Hirakis wrote in a state document.
The new line would connect a new substation in Lower Chanceford Township to the existing Conastone Substation, near Norrisville in Harford County, Maryland, according to Transource.
The attorneys noted Transource's application raised concerns about "impact on animal and plant habitats; impacts on agricultural land; impacts on soil; impacts on wetlands and floodplains; and storm water impacts."
PPL investigated the proposed route, and concluded that PPL "indeed has existing right of way on its Otter Creek-Conastone line which substantially parallels the proposed IEC-East Line," the attorneys explained.
Karen Moury, who represents Citizens to STOP Transource, Maple Lawn Farms Inc., and Rose Tree Hunt Club, said she and her clients “are looking forward to hearing more about the feasibility of the existing lines.”
Barnes, one of the administrative law judges, said the commission has an interest to "reduce the impact" on landowners, and she’s “hard pressed” to approve the currently proposed project.
Not only did she mention that some of the existing transmission lines in Franklin and York counties are “underutilized” and “defunct,” but Barnes also emphasized that the cost of the $320 million market efficiency project is concerning.
PJM hasn't updated its benefit-to-cost ratio, said Darryl Lawrence, with the Office of Consumer Advocate.
According to PJM, the project's benefits must exceed costs by at least 25 percent in order to prove it's needed.
Transource attorney Anthony Kanagy said his client is “amenable” to reviewing “alternative" routes, however, those options would have to be reviewed by engineers to prove that they would be applicable to the project’s overall goal.
But for now, Transource filed 133 requests for the use of eminent domain, a PUC document shows.
Judges haven't ruled on how they are going to proceed regarding eminent domain because of Act 45 of 2018, which involves the use of eminent domain on permanently preserved land, PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen confirmed.
At the prehearing conference, the judges kicked around the idea of deferring to each respective clerk of orphan's courts to render eminent domain decisions.
In the meantime, the deadline to file testimonial objections to eminent domain was moved from July 25 to Sept. 25, Moury said.
Her clients are "pleased with the direction that the judges are going in ... extending the procedural schedule,” she said.
The judges scheduled two public input hearings in both counties, where landowners can oppose eminent domain, Moury confirmed.
The PUC eminent domain public input hearings are scheduled at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sept. 18 in Franklin County and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sept. 20 in York County.