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Tell the full story on power lines [Editorial]

Residents of northern Harford County fighting against the construction of more overhead power lines in their community are getting ready for the next round, vowing to continue resisting.

How long they can hold out remains to be seen.

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Transource Energy, which is building the Independence Energy Connection for PJM Interconnection, owner of the regional power grid, will have a powerful ally: A state law passed last winter, as Senate Bill 969, that expressly gives eminent domain – condemnation authority – to private outfits like Transource to take people’s land for their power line projects.

How this law was allowed to pass through the legislature in a state where private property rights have been sacrosanct since colonial times defies understanding, but it’s there in black and white and has been in effect since Oct. 1.

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Getting the right to condemn property for the three miles of power lines in northern Harford would still require sanctioning by the state Public Service Commission following public hearings and the issuance of what is known as a “certificate of public convenience and necessity.” Then, any of the affected property owners who continue to balk would place a determination of the amount of compensation they would receive in the hands of a judge.

Local elected officials are crying “foul.” Del. Kathy Szeliga, who represents the Norrisville area where the power line would be built, says it appears Transource has deliberately chosen a route through land in county and state preservation programs because the value of such land is depressed, as owners have already received monetary payments or tax advantages to agree not to develop or sell for development.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman says the county’s agricultural preservation program works to keep utility projects away from productive land in the program. The county, he said earlier this month, would probably try to force Transource into condemnation, but he also admits the new law would hamstring that effort.

The affected property owners, a dozen or so, can fight, but it will be a costly one, with virtually no guarantee they’ll keep their land, or at the very least will be forced to grant a right-of-way for the power lines they don’t want coming through their properties.

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According to Transource and PJM, Independence Energy Connection, upon completion, will save regional consumers $600 million over 15 years, but they don’t say where these consumers actually live and do business, nor do they explain how the savings will result.

If there is surplus power coming on line from new or expanded gas-fired power plants along the Susquehanna River on both sides of the Maryland-Pennsylvania line, perhaps those were ill-advised business decisions by power producers. If so, no landowner in Harford County should be forced by any law, regulatory body or court to unwillingly give up their property because of someone else’s bad business decision.

Let the full story be told about Independence Energy Connection before the property confiscation begins.

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