Battle over big Harford power line project continues on several fronts

Contact Reporterdaanderson@baltsun.com

A flurry of activity on the county and state level continues as Transource Energy’s project to build 45 miles of high-voltage power transmission lines through Maryland and Pennsylvania, with one segment in northern Harford County, goes through a year-long state approval process.

Known as the Independence Energy Connection, the $320 million project has touched off widespread opposition in northern Harford County and Southern York County along the route of the proposed power lines.

The company filed applications to build the project with the Maryland Public Service Commission and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in late 2017.

Transource plans to begin construction in 2019 — pending approval by both states’ utility commissions — and have the lines in service by 2020.

Meanwhile, legislation is pending before the Maryland General Assembly that could short-circuit the project, or at least make it more onerous and costly to build, and the Harford County government has taken a firm stand against it, citing potential damage to hundreds of acres of protected farmland – paid for by county tax dollars.

Independence Energy Connection, which has one segment in the eastern part of Pennsylvania and Maryland and one segment in the western regions of the two states, involves building new transmission lines, new substations and upgrading existing facilities. The infrastructure is being built for PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that manages a grid serving 13 states and expects the new lines will save customers throughout the region $600 million over 15 years.

The Harford County Council adopted Resolution 001-18 on Feb. 6, expressing its opposition to the project, having determined it is “not in the best interests of the citizens of Harford County.”

Maryland’s PSC is currently gathering evidence and plans to hold a number of public hearings in the coming months, according to Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesperson for Transource.

“It just gives you some sense of the thoroughness of the process that they go through,” he said Thursday.

The regulatory review process is scheduled to go through next winter, according to PSC Order No. 88585, to which a link was provided Thursday by agency spokesperson Tori Leonard. The Feb. 22 order, which has been placed on the case docket, sets the procedural schedule for a year of filing of testimony by the applicant, state agencies and “intervenors” — affected property owners, the advocacy group STOP Transource Power Lines MD Inc. and the Harford County government and County Council.

Evidentiary hearings have been scheduled for Feb. 5 and Feb. 20, 2019, according to the order. The order also tasks local officials in Harford and Washington counties to work with the commission to schedule public hearings in those counties.

“A separate notice announcing the specific dates, locations and times of each public comment hearing will be issued at a later date,” according to the order.

The company also filed injunctions in the Harford County Circuit Court in February to allow Transource workers access to properties along the route for duties such as survey work, soil samples and others “ so the planning process can continue,” according to Abbruzzese.

Transource Maryland LLC filed 12 injunctions Feb. 27 against individual property owners, according to online court records.

“It’s essentially asking the court to compel the landowner to allow Transource to access the property,” Abbruzzese said. “It doesn’t mean that the property is being handed over to Transource, or there is an easement.”

Transource officials are “still working through” legislative issues with members of the General Assembly, Abbruzzese said.

Several members of Harford County’s legislative delegation in Annapolis have filed multiple bills in the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates on issues related to the project, such as land acquisition, notification of property owners affected by a transmission line project and compensation for those landowners.

Some have passed the House and await Senate hearings, while others have not made it out of committee.

House Bill 869, sponsored by Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, was passed by the House, 134-0, on March 19, according to the General Assembly website.

The bill would require applicants, who are seeking state approval to build power lines, to notify and compensate owners of property within 2,500 feet of the proposed lines.

Szeliga represents Legislative District 7, which covers western Baltimore County and eastern Harford, including the Norrisville area, site of Transource’s proposed eastern route.

She and Sen. J.B. Jennings have been working on legislation to help landowners who would be affected by future power line projects. She said via text message Thursday that “laws cannot be passed to change the rules” for Transource.

“We said from the start we cannot pass retrospective laws,” Szeliga stated. “Our work is to expose problems and improve, for landowners and communities, any new high-voltage power line project to be built in Maryland.”

Del. Rick Impallaria, a Republican who also represents District 7, is the primary sponsor of HB-784, which would repeal the right of an entity granted state approval to build power lines to acquire land or property rights via condemnation. The PSC also could not issue approval to build “unless the overhead transmission line is located on certain sites or on certain land; etc.,” according to the bill summary.

The House approved March 19 that bill 135-0, along with HB-1126, sponsored by Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County District 34A. That bill would required the PSC to take action on an application only after “due consideration” of the impact on air and water quality.

All three bills have moved to the Senate and have committee hearings scheduled for April 3, according to the website.

Copyright © 2018, The Aegis, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
88°