A settlement agreement is imminent between Transource Maryland and the parties opposed to a multi-million dollar project to build new power lines in northern Harford County.
The agreement, in principle, would have Transource use existing power lines and transmission line corridors operated by BGE rather than building new lines in the county, according to a letter dated Oct. 10 from Sondra Simpson McLemore, assistant attorney general for the Maryland Energy Administration, to David Collins, the acting executive director of the Maryland Public Service Commission.
“We are cautiously optimistic with the terms of the settlement agreement as they have been presented,” said Aimee O’Neill, president of Stop Transource Power Lines MD. “[Our] goal ... has been to convince the PSC, since we couldn’t convince Transource, that this project should be constructed on existing infrastructure using existing rights of way. If that is a result of the settlement, then we will have done what we set out to do.”
Stop Transource is one of the groups that have been fighting for the last two years a plan to build 45 miles of new power lines, upgrade existing substations and build new substations in Maryland and Pennsylvania to provide congestion relief to power lines and improve reliability.
Transource, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, was hired by PJM Interconnection — a regional transmission organization that manages the power grid for 13 states — to carry out the project, called the Independence Energy Connection.
The eastern leg of the project, as originally proposed, would include nearly 16 miles of power lines between York County in Pennsylvania and Harford County, including 3.1 miles in Harford ending at the Conastone Substation in Norrisville.
In June, Transource requested that the Maryland Public Service Commission suspend its consideration of Transource and PJM’s proposal because it was working on a settlement agreement. A 60-day suspension was approved and in early September, a second suspension, until Sept. 26, was approved.
In a letter to the Maryland Public Service Commission dated Sept. 26 — the deadline for the power company to provide an update to the commission — Transource and the Maryland Power Plant Research Program said they expected to be “in a position to file an executed settlement agreement within the next 10 business days,” but on Thursday filed a second letter asking for more time.
“The settling parties expect to be in a position to file an executed settlement agreement within the next 4 business days,” McLemore wrote in the Oct. 10 letter.
Four business days from Oct. 10 would be Wednesday.
Using existing infrastructure was not part of the original proposal.
“Several alternative route options for the east segment were introduced during the Maryland regulatory review process," Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Transource, said. “These alternatives included concepts that utilize existing facilities. As proposed, the alternatives all failed initial reliability tests necessary for further consideration.”
Transource and PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that identified the need for this project further evaluated the alternatives and determined that by increasing the size of the proposed Furnace Run substation and building about four miles of new lines in an existing right-of-way near the substation, portions of the project could use existing electric facilities in the area, Abbruzzese said.
“In summer 2019, Transource worked to balance input from stakeholders and determined support for the reconfigured east alternative,” he said. “The alternative will be filed with state commissions for consideration as an alternate eastern segment option within the originally proposed IEC project application.”
The original proposal and reconfigured proposal will both be reviewed by the state commissions, Abbruzzese said.
While the settlement agreement is good news, O’Neill said “it’s not over 'til the fat lady sings.”
“We’re still going through the process of various parties,” she said. “It ultimately has to be submitted to the Public Service Commission.”
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said the settlement “basically uses the existing right of way for where BGE has their existing lines. That’s the framework, to use the existing alignment, which is good for us.
“A vast majority of citizens support this settlement,” Glassman said.
Harford County government got involved to protect its agricultural easements where the power lines were proposed to go, he said.
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“Using the existing lines makes sense rather than created a whole new right of way system. For us, the preservation language says these things can’t occupy preserved property,” Glassman said. “We are protecting our money invested to ensure none of this will happen on those properties. This is a good victory for us and for the citizens.”