Transource fight continues [Editorial]

The Aegis

The fight against the big power line project that has dominated headlines in northern Harford County, and elsewhere along the Mason-Dixon Line, for the past year and a half is headed for more rounds in 2018.

We’ve staked out or position previously that the Independence Energy Connection being developed by Transource Energy for PJM Interconnection does not appear to have sufficient economic benefit to justify the $320 million cost and the disruption to the communities where it is planned.

Both Transource and PJM, the latter which operates in the regional power grid in Maryland, Pennsylvania and other states in the region, say that’s not so. Not only will the project save consumers millions in the long run, they argue, it will improve reliability of electric power delivery. The latter is an argument they only began making this past summer, as the community opposition stiffened and independent reviewers in Pennsylvania challenged the project’s supposed economic benefits.

Essentially, not much has changed, as regulatory hearings approach in Maryland sometime in early 2019.

Northern Harford County community leaders battling IEC and the prospect of overhead power lines being erected through their properties recently urged state legislators to pursue bills to protect their area and other parts of the state from such massive projects.

“What we would hope to accomplish in this next legislative session is legislation that is effective, to direct [applicants] that energy projects that come into the state of Maryland must first look at existing infrastructure,” Aimee O’Neill, a Norrisville resident and co-chair of STOP Transource Power Lines MD Inc., said during a Nov. 14 meeting with Harford County’s legislative delegation.

O’Neill and her co-chair, Patti Hankins, of Pylesville, spent about 30 minutes giving legislators an overview of their extensive research into the Independence Energy Connection project and state and federal policies that affect it, as well as potential legislative solutions. They gave an extremely detailed presentation, as Aegis staff member David Anderson reported Friday.

O’Neill also conceded, however, that such legislation wouldn’t materially impact the IEC project and would be more akin to locking the barn door after the horses ran off. Even so, we would encourage our county’s state delegates and senators to err on the side of the landowners versus big utilities and to look very judiciously at protecting the landowners first and foremost.

Eminent domain may well continue to be a necessary evil, but there needs to be a better balance between property rights and public necessity than what currently exists in favor of the former, not only in Maryland but across the United States.

A law passed by the Maryland legislature in 2017 allows land to be acquired by eminent domain for power line projects approved by state regulators. That law has drawn fire from the IEC opponents, but Harford legislators say the IEC was not on the radar at the time it passed. That’s a lame argument, however, given that the IEC project began to ramp up only months later.

Regardless of what legislative remedies may or may not lie on the horizon, we’re still waiting for the IEC backers to explain the relationship between the project and the two huge power plans being developed on both sides of the Susquehanna River at Peach Botton in York County and Wildcat Point in Cecil County.

This new generating capacity isn’t needed in York, Cecil or Harford counties, but the power produced has to move somewhere else where it is needed or could be needed and it’s destined to occur at the expense of the people who are fighting IEC.

Some truth-telling is still needed about who benefits and who loses, and the regulators in Pennsylvania and Maryland need to ask the hard questions to get at it the full story behind the genesis of the Independence Energy Connection.

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