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Harford bills on power line construction pass in final day of 2018 General Assembly session

Three bills sponsored by Harford County legislators related to construction of overhead power lines, spurred by the controversial Transource Energy Independence Energy Connection project in northern Harford, have been passed by the Maryland General Assembly,
Three bills sponsored by Harford County legislators related to construction of overhead power lines, spurred by the controversial Transource Energy Independence Energy Connection project in northern Harford, have been passed by the Maryland General Assembly, (Courtesy Transource Energy)

Three bills sponsored by Harford County legislators related to construction of overhead power lines, spurred by the controversial Transource Energy project in northern Harford, have been passed by the Maryland General Assembly, including one that passed Monday in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session.

House Bill 1126, sponsored by Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, sets up "criteria to consider" before the Maryland Public Service Commission issues a certificate for public convenience and necessity, which allows an applicant to proceed with building or modifying power lines and generating facilities. The bill passed the Maryland Senate and returned to the House of Delegates for final passage Monday, according to the General Assembly website.

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The 90-day session, which started in January, ended at midnight Monday.

Transource Energy is seeking approvals from Maryland and Pennsylvania to build two sections of new power lines across the Mason-Dixon Line, new substations and upgrade existing substations in the western and eastern parts of both states. The project is called the Independence Energy Connection.

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The 15-mile eastern route would pass through southern York County, Pa., and Norrisville in northwestern Harford, and end at the Conastone substation in Norrisville.

Residents have been fighting the project since last summer to protect their homes, businesses, scenic highways and farms that have been placed in county or state agricultural preservation programs. The Harford County government and County Council have expressed their support for the residents' fight, as have state legislators representing the area.

Lisanti's bill requires the PSC to issue final approval for a certificate only after criteria have been met such as the new infrastructure's impact on air and water quality and "due consideration" has been made of "certain alternative routes and certain information related to certain alternative routes," according to the bill text, which was amended in the House to include the provision on alternative routes.

House Bill 869, sponsored by Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, whose District 7 includes Norrisville, passed the House and Senate Friday. The bill requires applicants for a state certificate to build transmission lines to provide written notice via certified mail to owners of property where the applicant wants to "run a line or similar transmission device over, on, or under" their land. The notice must be provided to adjacent property owners, according to the bill.

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A provision that the PSC "shall consider, and may require" compensation of landowners was removed in the House through an amendment, according to the General Assembly website.

Republican Del. Rick Impallaria, who also represents District 7, sponsored HB-784, which also passed the House and Senate Friday.

That bill covers requirements to "provide certain notice of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity on its website and social media platforms" and to "identify whether a certain overhead transmission line is located on certain sites or on land subject to a certain easement under certain circumstances."

Language that repealed the authority of an applicant who has received a certificate to "acquire certain property or rights by condemnation" for power line construction was removed from Impallaria's original bill, along with language establishing a state Workgroup on Overhead Transmission Lines, according to the General Assembly website.

All three bills also include language that they apply only "prospectively" to future projects, not those where applications have been filed before the dates the bills take effect.

Transource filed its applications in Maryland and Pennsylvania in late 2017, and leaders of the fight against the project say a law that passed in the 2017 legislative session giving power line builders like Transource eminent domain authority facilitated the controversial project in Harford County.

The regulatory process leading to approval of the project is still expected to take more than a year, with evidentiary hearings scheduled for February 2019, according to an order on the PSC's website. Public hearings in Harford and Washington counties must be scheduled, too.

The $320 million Independence Energy Connection project would go into service in 2020, pending state approvals, according to Transource.



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