Industry experts reject PJM Interconnection power-line project

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • Over a 15-year period, Central and Eastern Pennsylvania ratepayers would incur increased power costs of more than $340 million if the IEC project is approved.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman said the Democratic leader has also expressed his concerns.
Senior Assistant Consumer Advocate Darryl Lawrence addresses administrative law judges during a prehearing conference. Bill Kalina photo

Proponents of a high-voltage power line that would pass through York County have failed to show an "economic need" for the project, and Pennsylvania consumers would save millions if it is not built, according to an attorney for the state Office of Consumer Advocate.

The attorney, Scott Rubin, is one of three industry experts who submitted written testimony Tuesday, Sept. 25, to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Transource Energy is the contractor trying to secure PUC approval for PJM Interconnection's proposed Independence Energy Connection Project.

Over a 15-year period, central and eastern Pennsylvania ratepayers would incur increased power costs of more than $340 million while ratepayers in western Pennsylvania would lower overall power costs by only $2 million, Rubin's analysis of the project concluded. 

The $336.17 million project, which would construct 16 miles of new overhead power lines in southern York County and 29 miles of new overhead power lines in Franklin County, needs PUC approval before it's constructed. The project crosses the state line into northern Maryland.

More:Proposed powerline in southern York County still needed, grid coordinator says

More:Eminent domain battle looms over Transource project

More:Political pressure against power line project gains momentum

More:PUC hearing raises questions about power line project in York, Franklin counties

Transource Energy has decided to use monopole structures in its $320 million "Independence Energy Connection" project. Submitted/photo

PJM in 2015 identified the need for the project, citing an energy congestion problem. The regional grid operator recently announced at a PJM Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee meeting the project is still needed.

The benefit-to-cost ratio for the project has to meet or exceed 1.25:1. The latest re-evaluation report shows that PJM’s analysis is 1.42:1, senior engineer Nicolae Dumitriu explained. 

The evaluation, however, neither includes Transource’s current cost estimates nor factors in how current electricity is already being used, according to Rubin.

“The analysis completely ignores increases in costs that would be incurred by zones outside of the region benefiting a project,” he wrote. “That is, the economic analysis used by PJM and Transource completely ignores the fact that the lower-cost power that would flow into certain regions is already being used elsewhere.”

Rubin said “the overall effect on PJM would be that the costs of the IEC Project would greatly exceed the project’s benefits.”

“Indeed, accepting all of Transource’s assumptions shows that every dollar invested in the IEC project would produce less than 3 cents of benefits for PJM,” he said.

Other associated costs, such as additional litigation fees due to a recent change in Pennsylvania law, weren't taken into consideration, the Bloomsburg attorney said. 

Administrative Law Judges Elizabeth Barnes and Andrew Calvelli decided to apply the Orphans’ Court requirement in Act 45, a new law that limits eminent domain for permanently preserved land.

Other factors noted in the experts' testimony: The demand for energy has changed since 2015; efficiency programs have not been utilized; energy conservation methods weren’t encouraged; and alternative energy non-transmission projects weren’t considered that would cost less and lessen environmental impacts.

Administrative law judges Elizabeth Barnes and Andrew Calvelli confer during a prehearing conference regarding Transource Energy powerline applications Monday, July 9, 2018, at the Commonwealth Keystone Building in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex in Harrisburg. Transource Energy is asking the state to consolidate its two applications into one case in order to receive approval to construct new overhead power lines in Franklin and York counties. Bill Kalina photo

If Pennsylvania and Maryland regulators do not approve the project, PJM would have to start over, said Steve Herling, PJM vice president of planning.

Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, as well as lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Maryland, has applied political pressure on the regional grid operator to stop the project.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman said the Democrat also has expressed his concerns.  

“Gov. Wolf has been following the project closely and the administration has expressed its serious concerns about the impacts the proposed route would have on productive, preserved farmland to both (Transource) and the PUC, which has jurisdiction over the project,” JJ Abbott said.