Transource power line from Pa. to Md. has long way to go before construction
It will be at least two and a half years before electricity begins to flow through a proposed new high-voltage power line from Shippensburg, Pa., to Ringgold, Md. — that is if or when Transource Energy clears several regulatory hurdles.
Even though Transource has named its preferred route for the line, the project requires the approval of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC). These state agencies have jurisdiction on transmission-line siting.
There is no set timeline for either state’s commission to rule.
“With high-voltage transmission lines, there is not a statutory deadline,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, PUC press secretary. “The commission works to address things in as timely a manner as possible, but there is no clock on those cases.
“Typically it can run about a year, but there are cases that can run substantially longer.”
PSC communications director Tori Leonard echoed her Pennsylvania colleague.
“There is no statutory limit,” she said. “I will say typically it’s a process that could take anywhere from 9 to 12 months depending on the project itself.”
The project, which calls for 135-foot-high monopoles placed every 1,000 feet through a 130-foot right of way, has drawn ire from the public and community groups who fear the effects on the county’s farming and tourism.
Transource has not yet filed an application in either state, but Transource spokesperson Abby Foster confirmed last week that the company is still on track to take that step before 2018.
“We do still expect to file by the end of the year,” Foster said. “That’s what we have in our expected project timeline, but it just depends. That’s up to the commission and how quickly they move through.”
If the approval process stays within the year and the project is given a green light, Foster said construction would begin in 2019 with completion by mid-2020.
Being a utility
Transource Energy LLC has been hired by PJM Interconnection, which coordinates and directs the operation of the region’s transmission grid, to construct the $320 million project. In an August 2016 news release, PJM said the project was “to strengthen the grid and reduce electricity costs.”
Called the Independence Energy Connection, the project includes 40 miles of 250 kilovolt overhead electric transmission lines in two areas. The eastern section is 15 miles of line along an eastern route linking Conastone in Harford County, Md., to Furnace Run in York County, Pa. The western section is 25-mile section from Ringgold to Shippensburg would travel the length of Franklin County, Pa.
This is Transource’s first project in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, the company needs to clear one of several hurdles: Being approved to do business in the state.
“Transource does have an application before the commission for what is called a certificate of convenience, which would be the certificate that would allow them to operate as a utility in Pennsylvania,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “They won’t be able to file a siting application until there’s a decision on their ability to operate as a utility.”
He said the certificate application is before the PUC now, but there is no timetable on when the commission might rule on it.
Hagen-Frederiksen and Leonard both emphasized that since Transource has not yet applied for siting of the project, only general information about the process is available.
In Pennsylvania, when a siting application is made, the PUC begins a case file that is assigned a docket number.
“Then all of the public files related to that case, complaints filed, letters written, all are public documents attached to that docket and are available on the website (www.puc.pa.gov),” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “If and when an application is filed, people, regardless of where they are, will be able to follow that entire process from their homes or offices.”
A similar process is in place at the PSC in Maryland, according to Leonard.
“They submit an application to the commission and it’s typically given a case number and then a docket is opened and that would be on our website (www.psc.state.md.us),” she said. “The parties to the case would file in that docket and those would all be available to be viewed or downloaded.”
When a PUC application is contested, the proceeding is assigned to an administrative law judge, who presides at formal hearings on the case. Those hearings are open to the public and conducted like a court proceeding. The judge gathers facts and evidence in the case, including public testimony. The judge then makes a recommendation to the five-member PUC, which makes the final ruling.
Final decisions by the commission are made at its regular public meeting, which are typically held twice a month. The meeting schedule and agendas are public and all of the meetings are livestreamed.
In Maryland, the commission can take on the case itself or assign the investigation like Pennsylvania does.
“It depends on whether the commission decides to hear the case or it gets delegated,” Leonard said. “If it gets delegated, there are any number of parties who might have involvement, such as the PPRP (Power Plant Research Project), which is part of the Department of Natural Resources. The Department of the Environment might get involved. Our own commission technical staff would analyze the filing.”
There is recourse for decisions made by the state commissions or their designees.
“If the commission makes the ruling, they can appeal to the courts,” Leonard said of those unhappy with the decision. “If the public utility law judge makes the decision, they can appeal to the commission itself. It depends on who is hearing the case.”
Hagen-Frederiksen said the process is similar in Pennsylvania.
“It’s possible for parties to ask the commission to reconsider a final order,” he said. “And then after that reconsideration, commission actions can be appeal to Commonwealth Court.”
People have a voice
Though the machinations of judicial proceedings and government hearings might seem like a way to forestall public protest, they’re actually designed to give people a chance to speak.
“… Consumers do have a voice in the process. There’s the ability to comment,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “It depends on the nature of the situation, but there can be public input hearings and other things. And there’s the transparency of all the PUC records. And the ability to submit written comment as well.”