North Pocono area group seeks adjustment to regulatory schedule for proposed PPL transmission project

An environmental group in the North Pocono area of Pennsylvania is calling for a modified state regulatory schedule in relation to PPL Electric Utilities’ proposed Northeast-Pocono Reliability Project in order to be able to account for proper weather conditions.

As reported, the PPL (NYSE:PPL) subsidiary said on Dec. 28, 2012, that it is seeking approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) for its proposed project, which will involve a new 230-kV line and new electrical substations.

The new power line will be about 58 miles long and will connect the new substations to the existing high-voltage grid, strengthening the local electric delivery network, PPL said in a statement. The project will serve customers in parts of Lackawanna, Monroe, Wayne, Pike, Carbon and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania.

According to the application filed with the PUC, the estimated cost to design and build the project is about $154m, including about $36m for the substation work; $90.6m for the 230-kV transmission line network; $10.3m for the 138/69-kV transmission line work; and $171.1m for the acquisition of needed rights-of-way and land for the substations.

According to the application, if approved, project construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014 to meet the in-service date of November 2017.

The North Pocono Citizens Alert Regarding the Environment (NP CARE), which, according to its website, is a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the environment in the North Pocono area, requested in a March 5 filing with the PUC a modification to the proposed case schedule for the project.

“[A] number of outcome-determinative plant and animal species, habitats and conditions, which may exist along the route of the proposed line will not be observable until late June 2013, because they will be under snow cover and/or hibernating,” the group said. “Additionally, some outcome-determinative plant species will not grow identifying characteristics until late June.”

The group proposed, among other things, changing the schedule previously set by a PUC administrative law judge (ALJ) to have testimony of parties other than PPL filed on July 12; public input hearings be held April 29 to June 28; evidentiary hearings to be held Aug. 26-30; initial briefs be due on Sept. 23; a recommended decision be issued on Nov. 18; and a commission order be issued in February 2014.

According to a Jan. 29 order by ALJ David Salapa, the schedule called for, among other things, testimony of parties other than PPL to be due on May 6; public input hearings be held April 29 to May 3; evidentiary hearings to be held June 24-28; initial briefs be due on July 26; a recommended decision be issued on Sept. 18; and a commission order be issued in December.

NP CARE said the project will cause destruction of exceptional value and high quality waterways through herbicide contamination, thermal pollution, sedimentation, altered flow and other impacts.

The group also charged the project will cause degradation, in quality and quantity, of drinking water supplies, locally and downstream; significant harm to threatened, endangered and other species, locally and downstream; and destruction of scenic vistas and scenic forested trails in popular public recreational areas.

The group further charged that PPL has not sufficiently assessed the proposed project’s environmental impacts, has failed to evaluate alternative engineering in order to minimize many of the negative impacts identified by NP CARE, and has failed to establish the need for each segment of the proposed project.

The company’s application contains insufficient identification of reasonable alternative routes, including a flawed comparison of the merits and detriments of each route, and improper reasons for choosing the proposed line route, the group said.

A PPL spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment on March 11.

NP CARE also said it requests public input hearings in two locations, including at the Thornhurst Fire Hall in Thornhurst Township, Pa.

In a separate Feb. 15 letter to the PUC, state Sen. John Blake and state Reps. Michael Carroll and Kevin Haggerty also urged the PUC to conduct a public hearing at the Thornhurst Volunteer Fire Company, noting that the site “offers public access in close proximity to the individuals, families and businesses impacted by the project.”

They said many of the project area’s citizens have taken an active role since the project’s inception and have participated in significant local dialogue during PPL’s siting process.

“Without question, local citizens are well informed on the intricacies of this project and their input in a public session will be invaluable to the PUC as it advances through its decision-making process,” the lawmakers said.

PPL said in December 2012 that the only supply source to the Northeast Pocono region is provided by 138/69-kV transmission lines and it has been about 30 years since the last major regional transmission reinforcement was built in that area.

There has been substantial load growth in the area since then and that is expected to continue, the company said, adding that its system studies indicate that, starting in 2014, certain facilities would be in violation of PPL Electric Utilities’ “Reliability Principles & Practices.”

The project is required to resolve the violations and to reinforce the existing 138/69-kV systems serving the region by bringing a new 230-kV supply source closer to the growing load centers. To do this, the company added, it proposes to locate the new West Pocono and North Pocono 230-69-kV substations central to the loads they will serve.

The new substations and associated new transmission lines will reduce the distance between the power supply and the homes and businesses that use the electricity, which will reduce the number of customers affected by a single facility outage, as well as the duration of the outage.

In the statement, PPL noted that new homes have been built and existing homes are using more electronic devices and appliances. While this growth has been reduced by customers using energy more efficiently, overall demand is expected to continue to grow, particularly during peak times such as winter cold snaps.

PPL also said that the 69-kV power lines in the area are no longer adequate to serve customer needs, adding that the lines are up to 40 miles long, exposing customers to more frequent and longer service outages if lines are damaged during storms.

The company added that the route chosen for the line represents its best effort to balance social, environmental and cost impacts while ensuring that PPL Electric Utilities can fulfill its obligation to provide reliable electric service.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.