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Harford County public hearing in Transource power line project scheduled for April 27 at North Harford High School

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Harford County residents will have the opportunity to share their views on Transource Energy’s $372 million Independence Energy Connection power line project during a public hearing scheduled for April 27.

Barron Shaw, whose family-owned Shaw Orchards in White Hall is along the proposed route for Transource’s new power lines between York County, Pennsylvania, and northern Harford, said he expects there will be a large turnout.

He and many other property owners on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line have been working to defeat the IEC project since it was announced in the summer of 2017.

“There’s a lot of interest in the community, and I’m thankful for that,” Shaw said.

The public hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, April 27 at North Harford High School, 211 Pylesville Road in Pylesville, according to a notice from the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Transource, which is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, has been hired by PJM Interconnection — a regional transmission organization that manages the power grid for 13 states — to build 45 miles of new power lines, upgrade existing substations and build new substations in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Two segments are proposed, one in the west between Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Washington County in Maryland and one in the east between York County and Harford. The nearly 16-mile eastern route includes 3.1 miles in Harford County and ends at the Conastone Substation in Norrisville, according to a Transource website on the IEC.

“We have gone through an extensive siting [process] to try and find the route that best balances and reduces the impacts caused by the project,” Todd Burns, a director with Transource, said during an interview April 8.

Burns said the Independence Energy Connection has been identified as a “market efficiency project” which will reduce bottlenecks constricting the flow of power within the grid.

The additional capacity provided by new infrastructure ensures “customers on one side of the bottleneck have access to the same affordable electricity as those on the other side.”

Burns said the project, which is slated to go into service in late 2020, is expected to save consumers $860 million in the first 15 years.

The new lines also help provide redundancy in case there is a major power outage along the grid, Burns noted.

“With the project being constructed, it will reduce the likelihood of power outages on the electric grid in parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and Maryland PSC must approve the project before it goes into service. Burns said.

Scheduled evidentiary hearings before the Pennsylvania commission have wrapped up, although time for more testimony on how the project will improve the reliability of the grid, in addition to making it more efficient, has been scheduled for late June.

The evidentiary hearings before the Maryland PSC are scheduled for June, according to Burns.

Another public hearing in Maryland is scheduled for May 18 at Smithburg High School in the western part of the state. People have until Wednesday, May 29 to file written comments, according to the PSC notice.

Written comments should reference Case No. 9471 and be addressed to: Terry J. Romine, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, according to the notice.

Property owners, residents skeptical

Shaw, like many of his fellow property owners in northern Harford and southern York County has been opposed to the new power lines, especially where the right-of-way crosses farms like his that have been placed in state and county-run agricultural preservation programs that prohibit using the land for any purpose other than agriculture.

Local residents also fear the new lines could affect scenic highways, businesses and disturb the environment. They have been researching the project, and Shaw cited evidence presented during Pennsylvania proceedings showing it is not necessary and could actually cost consumers more than $500 million in power rate increases.

Shaw said the project is about moving electricity from one place to another, “robbing Peter to pay Paul — Peter is not too happy about that.”

Shaw noted local property owners object to the IEC on several principles, such as “a private company making money off of our land.”

“We just really don’t want to look at their power lines or farm around them,” said Shaw, whose 200-acre orchard has been in operation since 1909. “They’re never going to go away so we’re doing our best to protect our own interests.”

County Executive Barry Glassman, the Harford County Council and members of Harford’s legislative delegation in Annapolis have also expressed their opposition.

Gov. Larry Hogan sent a letter to PJM Interconnection in July 2018 requesting the company pause and re-evaluate its project, encouraging officials to find a new route along existing rights of way and not taking “large swaths of actively-used farmland.”

However, Burns, of Transource, said “the existing infrastructure doesn’t have the capacity to carry the conductors and equipment that we’ve proposed.”

Company officials have also looked into building parallel to existing infrastructure, he said, but in many cases that can be more disruptive to local properties than building along a new route.

Burns stressed that “we at Transource are trying to minimize to the greatest extent possible the disturbance caused by the project.” He said the power lines will be on steel monopoles, which have a base 7 feet in diameter, rather than the traditional lattice structures used for many other power lines.

The 230 kV double-circuit monopoles are slated to be 135 feet high and be within a 130-foot-wide right-of-way for safe operation and maintenance, according to the IEC site.

“The project is really aimed at bringing a tremendous amount of benefits to Maryland,” he said. “This project is about ensuring people have affordable electricity to power their homes, businesses and industry as economically and efficiently as possible. That, in turn, drives the economy and the quality of life that we all enjoy.”

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