Company, landowners tangle over proposed power line
Since last fall, landowners in Franklin and southern York counties have been fighting a proposed power line that would run through their farms and fields.
The next stage of the battle is set for March 13, when state regulators plan to host a meeting in Harrisburg to plot out future steps in debating the line's merits.
No testimony will be taken at the meeting, called a pre-conference hearing. It will be followed by a series of public hearings this spring in York and Franklin counties.
The hearings are part of the approval process for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The agency is deciding whether the line is truly needed, whether there are more cost-effective and less intrusive alternatives, and whether the project satisfies all safety standards and meets all legal requirements in Pennsylvania.
"Those hearings are expected to be held during May 2018, and will be publicized in advance, include official notices published in local newspapers two weeks prior to the hearing dates," the commission said in a statement.
The conference begins at 10 a.m., Hearing Room 1, in the Commonwealth Keystone Building, 400 North St., Harrisburg in the State Capitol Complex.
The line itself is being developed by a company called Transource, a partnership between American Electric Power and Great Plains Energy.
The project is an overhead electric transmission project that Transource says will increase access to more affordable power in the region.
The company plans to build two transmission lines totaling approximately 45 miles in Pennsylvania and Maryland. A western segment will extend from Shippensburg to Ringgold, Md., and an eastern segment will extend from Furnace Run in southern York county to Conastone, Md. The project ties into two existing lines
The $230 million project will also include construction of two new substations in Pennsylvania and upgrades to two existing substations in Maryland.
The proposed routes were announced in October 2017 and are described in applications filed with the PUC and the Maryland Public Service Commission in December 2017.
In December, the commission approved Transource's bid to become a public utility.
The approval gives Transource the authority to use eminent domain to take easements for the power line by justly compensating the property owners. A public utility can take a right-of-way for a power transmission line on private property, even if the property is preserved farmland. Additionally, Transource has the right to access the properties to conduct surveys, tests and appraisals though some landowners are denying access.
In response, Transource has filed several motions for right of access to survey, essentially seeking a court’s confirmation on their right to access a landowner’s property.
"Transource and its representatives are committed to treating landowners and their properties with respect. While reaching a voluntary agreement with property owners is a high priority, it is imperative for Transource to continue through the phases of the project as the company seeks regulatory approvals. The approval of this filing will allow Transource to proceed with field work for those landowners who have not yet granted the company access," Transource spokeswoman Abby Foster said.
The company's behavior has been a sore subject among affected landowners who say the project is not necessary and is destructive to Franklin and York counties.
Groups such as Stop Transource In Pennsylvania and Maryland have emerged to protest of the power line.
One argument is that PJM can work out a plan to revive existing rights-of-way if new lines are actually needed.
"There’s an abandoned line from an old facility that could be used. PJM's proposal is to apparently relieve congestion on the energy grid. Before you take people’s private property, you must utilize existing transmission lines that are either abandoned or not operating to full capacity," Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York County) said.
Transource says the existing infrastructure does not have enough capacity to address congestion and that the proposed lines are meant to supplement the existing transmission facilities rather than to replace them.
"Existing infrastructure and right-of-ways owned by other transmission companies or utilities were approved by the commission for their current and future use to serve their customers," Foster said. "Transource looked to parallel existing infrastructure, where possible, but cannot overlap with their right-of-way."
Phillips-Hill is asking that the PUC administrative law judge who is going to hear the case modify the application to use existing transmission lines to minimize the impact of the project on the community, private property and preserved farmland.
"We must protect the landowners because eminent domain is one of those things that should be used only when every other option has been exhausted," Phillips-Hill said. "The power line would have irreversible effects on that farmland, and the taxpayer would not be adequately compensated for their loss of investment."
If approved, construction of the project is expected to begin in 2019, with a project in-service date of mid-2020.
PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization responsible for managing the high-voltage electricity grid for 13 states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, awarded construction of the project to Transource in August 2016.