Opponents to Harford power line project brace for fight at state level in 2018

Opposition to a power line project planned across the northwestern corner of Harford County that sparked protests in the latter half of 2017 will continue into the new year, opponents have vowed, as the project’s owner seeks final state regulatory approvals.

On Dec. 27, Transource Energy filed an application with the Maryland Public Service Commission to build the Independence Energy Connection project, a Transource spokesperson said.

The project consists of 40 miles of new power lines — 25 miles in western Pennsylvania and Maryland and 15 miles in the eastern part of the two states — upgrades to existing substations and construction of new substations so the operator of the 13-state electric grid, PJM Interconnection, can clear grid congestion and move power more efficiently, according to PJM and Transource.

The eastern leg of the project has met stiff opposition from residents of Harford County and neighboring York County, Pa., as property owners on both sides of the border say they fear losing land in agricultural preservation, as well as harm to scenic highways, the environment and area businesses.

About 3 miles of high voltage lines on 130-foot high towers will cross Harford County from the Pennsylvania border to connect with the existing Conastone substation east of Route 23 in Norrisville. Residents of that community and neighboring areas packed a series of community meetings held over the summer and fall to express their opposition.

Most recently, a dozen residents spoke before the Harford County Council in early December, urging that county officials use zoning powers already at their disposal to force additional local reviews of the project and ultimately to block it.

Leaders of the group formed to block the project, calling itself Stop Transource Power Lines PA-MD, also say they will push to overturn a law enacted last year that gave utility developers like Transource eminent domain powers to take private property if a project has received state PSC approval.

That law “cut the heart and soul out of the northern Harford County Community,” David Seman, chairman of the Jarrettsville-Norrisville Community Advisory Board, told the Harford County Council at its Dec. 12 meeting. He and others who spoke said there will an effort to repeal the law during the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session when in convenes Jan. 10.

Patti Hankins, a co-chair of Stop Transource, told the council there is no shortage of power and the Independence Energy Connection is essentially a profit-boosting tool to move cheaper power generated in western Pennsylvania and Ohio to Baltimore and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“The [Independence Energy Connection] project is not a reliability project,” Hankins said. “There is no shortage of power. The project is all about [the developers] reaping huge profits at the expense of our community.”

Council President Richard Slutzky, and Councilman Chad Shrodes, the latter who represents the area affected by the Transource project, have sent a letter to the PSC’s chairman and executive director expressing their opposition.

“Since the announcement of the project we have received countless calls, emails and letters from property owners, farmers and agri-tourism entrepreneurs expressing their dissent,” the letter states. “We strongly agree with the community that the project would have a detrimental impact on businesses, property values, preserved and protected lands, the environment and residents' quality of life. The new line would also have an adverse effect on the designated Mason-Dixon Scenic Highway Corridor and several inventoried historical sites.

“We urge you to deny the project and stipulate that future applications use brownfield sites, existing right of ways and infrastructure… .”

“We’re with you all the way,” Shrodes told the community members who attended the council meeting.

Transource expects the PSC “will conduct a thorough review of PJM's assessment of the need for this project, as well as Transource's selection of the proposed routes,” Transource spokesperson Mary Urban wrote in an email.

Urban said Transource has updated fact sheets and other information about the project, in part to clear up “some confusion on a few points related to siting and right-of-way activities.” All the latest information is available on the project website www.transourceenergyprojects.com/IndependenceEnergyConnection.

"From our structure selection to route adjustments, our application to build the project incorporates a number of modifications based on public input,” Todd Burns, Transource director, said in a statement issued last week. “And while we weren't able to incorporate every change, we considered each comment as we worked to strike the balance between building the required infrastructure that powers our homes and economy, while respecting land use and the environment in these communities.”

“We look forward to the Public Service Commission's review and moving forward with this project to update and reinforce the electric grid," Burns said.

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