Michigan township fighting proposed METC line

Officials in Oshtemo Township, Mich., are gearing up for a fight with ITC Holdings’ (NYSE:ITC) subsidiary Michigan Electric Transmission Company (METC) over the proposed Weeds Lake transmission project, a seven-mile, double-circuit 138-kV transmission line connecting Oshtemo Township and Almena Township, Mich. (Case No. U-17041).

Although the utility has been engaging with the public in the township about six miles west of Kalamazoo since June 2011, the utility just filed its 317-page application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on July 31.

Provisions of state law and a recently passed local ordinance are pivotal to the conflict. Michigan law allows, but does not require, the MPSC to issue a CPCN for lines less than 345-kV and five miles in length. Because the line is less than 345-kV, METC “was poised to begin construction without a certificate,” the company said in its application.

However, in November 2011, the township amended its utility control ordinance “to require METC to prove the proposed transmission line’s necessity to the township and receive township approval before construction,” according to METC’s application. The ordinance also requires that proposed transmission lines be placed underground where it is located within the public road right-of-way, or within 250 feet either side of a public right-of-way.

In its application, METC cited provisions of Michigan law that declare “[t]ransmission of electricity is an essential service,” and that state law “shall control in any conflict between this act and any other law of this state.”

In addition, the company cited a separate portion of state law that said issuance of a CPCN by the MPSC “take[s] precedence over a [municipality’s] conflicting local ordinance, law, rule, regulation, policy, or practice that prohibits or regulates the location or construction of a transmission line for which the commission has issued a certificate.”

The township’s attorney disagrees with METC’s interpretation.

“The law is quite clear that MPSC regulations and state law only supercede where there is a conflict,” township attorney James Porter told TransmissionHub on August 13. “I believe there are areas where our ordinances don’t conflict with state law and therefore they would not preempt local ordinance.”

One of those areas is the township’s directive that the line be placed underground.

“They can give [METC] a certificate that would, in essence, approve the route but not all aspects of the route,” he said, noting that the undergrounding requirement would not be in conflict with the CPCN as long as the line followed the alignment approved by the MPSC.

Timing may also become an issue.

State law applies to municipal laws passed after a utility has filed for a CPCN. The township’s ordinance was passed in November 2011, while METC filed its application for a CPCN in July. “It may be an argument we’ll raise, but I’m not sure how the MPSC will interpret that,” especially considering that the utility had been discussing the line in the community since approximately June 2011, Porter said. He criticized METC’s public relations efforts, calling them “probably the poorest of any I’ve seen,” and accused the company for being “dishonest, deceptive, and misleading,” as its advertisements for public meetings could have been mistaken for invitations to attend stockholders’ meetings, he claimed.

Calls seeking comment from ITC Holdings were not returned by press time Aug. 13.

In its application, the company said the transmission line is needed to maintain reliable electric service in the Kalamazoo area “by properly planning for contingencies in accordance with mandatory reliability standards, and provide a separate, independent transmission source to the Kalamazoo area.”