Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is seeking a pause and a re-evaluation of Transource Energy’s proposed $320 million project to build 45 miles of new power lines in the western and eastern parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania, including through Harford County.
In a July 10 letter, Hogan cited the need to protect local farmland as a key reason for his request that the Independence Energy Connection project “be stopped until it can be re-evaluated or until a new route can be considered that utilizes existing rights of way, instead of taking large swaths of actively-used farmland.”
The governor wrote the letter to Howard Schneider, chairman of the Board of Managers for PJM Interconnection LLC. Transource is building the two segments of power lines for PJM, a regional transmission organization that manages an electric grid serving customers in 13 states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The IEC project, which is meant to relieve congestion in the regional electric grid and is expected to save customers $600 million over 15 years, would be in service in mid-2020, pending approval by utility commissions in both states.
The project involves building new power lines, new substations and upgrading existing substations. The western lines would be built between Franklin County, Pa., and Washington County, Md., and the eastern lines would connect York County, Pa., and northern Harford County, ending at the Conastone Substation in Norrisville.
Hogan stated in his letter that he understands the need to reduce power congestion, but noted: “I respectfully request” that the project be stopped until it could be re-evaluated, or a new route along existing rights-of-way for power lines be considered.
“Many Maryland families have farmed for generations, including the residents in Harford County who stand to be impacted by this project,” Hogan wrote. “As currently designed, the project will take prime agricultural land out of production, including land that is in permanent agriculture easements.”
‘Further engagement’ needed
He encouraged PJM officials to conduct “further engagement” with the local community, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Energy Administration.
“Working together, we can look for solutions that satisfy the property rights concerns of the landowners and the congestion relief concerns of PJM,” Hogan wrote.
The Hogan administration has not received a response as of Thursday afternoon, spokesperson Shareese Churchill wrote in an email Thursday. She provided an additional statement, indicating the governor “shares citizens’ concerns about the proposed Transource project, as well as the negative impact it could have on Maryland’s farm families.”
The project is under review in Maryland by the state’s Public Service Commission. Communications Director Tori Leonard said Tuesday that Hogan’s letter had been sent to PJM, not the commission, and “the case is proceeding” for her agency.
Residents and property owners in northern Harford, along with their counterparts in southern York County, have organized to stop the project, citing concerns about the impact to farmland, as well as local businesses, scenic highways, residences and the environment.
The Harford County Council and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman have echoed residents’ concerns and state legislators who represent Harford County in Annapolis have been working on their behalf as well.
Glassman has been especially concerned about farms protected from development through the county’s agricultural preservation program.
Several bills sponsored by Harford legislators were passed during the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session, which ended in April. Those bills were designed to support landowners who could be affected by future power line projects and would not apply retroactively to the Transource project, which was announced in 2017.
State Sen. J.B. Jennings, whose district includes the section of northern Harford that is part of the proposed power line route, said “it would be considered unconstitutional” to change the rules for Transource after the approval process has started for their project.
“It’s in the PSC’s hands at this point, and we’ll be lobbying the PSC supporting the community,” Jennings said Tuesday.
He said Hogan’s letter “adds horsepower to our argument.”
“It shows that he has concerns and wants them to use the existing rights of way,” Jennings said.
Transource officials are aware of Hogan’s letter, spokesperson Rick Abbruzzese wrote in an email Tuesday.
“It is worth noting that in response to concerns raised during the public open houses that Transource has moved to a monopole structure which is very compatible with farming,” Abbruzzese wrote. “Transmission infrastructure and farming have coexisted since the beginning of the development of our nation’s electrical grid.”
He said design standards for transmission infrastructure have been developed, under the National Electrical Safety Code, to “ensure that the most commonly used farming machinery could continue to be operated safely in the right-of-way.”
“Transource understands the valuable role agriculture plays in this region and our engineers worked to ensure typical farming practices, from crops to orchards, could continue within the right-of-way,” Abbruzzese wrote.
He also provided a statement from PJM indicating that the company “plans not just for today; we plan for the future.”
“To ensure reliable transmission service, PJM prepares an annual plan that addresses near-term reliability needs and long-term transmission needs over a planning horizon of 15 years,” according to the company statement. “We use reliability and market efficiency analyses to identify transmission additions and upgrades including those that may have economic or wholesale market benefits.”
Transource Maryland LLC filed injunctions in Harford County Circuit Court in February so workers could get access to properties along the proposed route to conduct surveys, take soil samples and other duties related to the planning process.
“Transource has been granted access to the properties and has been conducting necessary surveys to plan for the project,” Abbruzzese wrote Tuesday.
The extensive review process by the Public Service Commission continues.
The most recent development was in late July when the commission, in a notice dated July 26, granted more time for the Department of Natural Resources’ Power Plant Research Program staff to obtain the necessary information to complete their review of the application to build the eastern transmission lines.
The commission granted an extension through Aug. 31 for the PPRP to submit a revised “procedural schedule” for the PSC’s consideration, according to the notice, which is on the commission’s website along with other documents filed in Case No. 9471. That case covers Transource Maryland LLC’s application to build IEC transmission lines in Harford and Washington counties.
“The commission relies on PPRP to conduct an environmental review of the project, and also to coordinate any other review that other state agencies would have to do,” Leonard, the PSC spokesperson, said.
A revised procedural schedule could affect the timing of evidentiary hearings that had been scheduled for February 2019 and public hearings that must still be scheduled — those public hearings could be part of the PPRP’s procedural schedule, or the applicant could work with the PSC’s executive secretary to schedule them, according to Leonard.