For years, leaders of Harford County's public school teachers union tried to use the threat that its members would decamp en masse for supposedly better paying in jobs in neighboring Pennsylvania, if school leaders and elected officials didn't fund increases to their salaries.
It sounded good in the political theater, until people actually sat back and looked at the numbers and realized it was a pretty hollow argument, or at least the Pennsylvania part was. In a state that has been steadily losing population, there was already a teacher glut being made worse annually by men and women graduating from the state's historic teacher training universities. The land of milk and honey for Harford teachers was not north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
This summer, it could be argued that the Transource Energy/PJM Interconnection's planned Independence Energy Connection project, which has so many people on both sides of the border riled up, is the Harford teachers to Pennsylvania argument in reverse.
This time, there's a surplus of cheap and abundant electricity being generated along the Susquehanna River, primarily north of the Mason-Dixon Line and south of Harrisburg, Pa., that needs to go to places that can use it. Consumers paying more in those places, advocates say, should benefit by paying less than they do for the power they get from older, polluting and expensive to operate facilities mainly fueled by coal.
The problem is that to get the power when it can be consumed, it has to be transported cross country via high voltage lines that go through communities that don't need the power and are unlikely to see very significant cost reductions. They may save some perhaps, according to Transource and PJM, but no concrete numbers have been forthcoming, again not unlike the old Harford teacher flight threat.
An official with PJM, the regional grid operator whose territory includes Maryland and Pennsylvania, said last week there's a problem in efficiently moving the power south, and the Independence Energy Connection is designed to save what he called "congestion dollars" for consumers throughout the grid. Is this project a necessity? We suspect it's not and instead reflects poor planning on the part of PJM, its member utilities and the power generation industry.
We certainly empathize with folks whose homes, farms, open spaces and businesses face the prospect of being crisscrossed by new power lines. Based on what little information Transource and PJM have provided, the growing opposition in Harford and York counties is justified.
A final decision on the power line route won't be made for another several weeks. In the meantime, there simply hasn't been enough information forthcoming from Transource and PJM that shows the project is justified from a public need standpoint.
Until there is, skepticism about this project and its benefits to those most directly affected will continue, and rightly so.
As so many in the community have pointed out, there are more than enough existing power line routes through the area that these new Transource lines could follow with minimal disruptions to people's homes,livelihoods and their scenic vistas. So why the need to consider other routes? Answers from Transource and PJM await us all.