Maine state regulators on Aug. 28 granted the request by Central Maine Power (CMP) and Bangor Hydro Electric (BHE) for an extension to file comments in response toan inquiry involving setback requirements for transmission lines.
The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Aug. 7 issued a notice of inquiry requesting that Maine’s investor-owned electric utilities respond to three questions, including the impact to the utilities on potential changes to setback requirements and the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) associated with transmission lines, according to the companies’ letter to the PUC seeking the extension.
The deadline to file comments was Sept. 3, but as the PUC said in granting the request, the deadline is extended to Sept. 19, which is the date that the companies sought.
According to the notice, the PUC began the inquiry to gather information responsive to a letter from the Maine State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee of Energy and Technology requesting that the PUC provide information related to setback requirements associated with transmission lines.
During the last legislative session, the committee voted to carry over a bill titled, “An Act to Establish the Electromagnetic Field Safety Act, LD 950.” The legislature will consider the bill when it returns in January 2014.
The bill proposed that starting on Oct. 1, all new transmission line and electrical installations capable of carrying 5,000 volts or more of electricity must be set back at least 300 feet from residential homes, residential care facilities, hospitals, schools, licensed daycare facilities, playgrounds, youth centers, religious facilities and youth camps.
The bill also proposed that the PUC adopt routine technical rules to adopt the setback requirement.
Transmission lines in Maine range from 34.5-kV to 345-kV, while distribution lines range from 4-kV to 34.5-kV. Accordingly, the PUC added, the proposed setback requirement would affect new transmission and distribution lines.
In the meantime, before the legislature returns, the committee requested that the PUC provide information regarding the potential health impacts of EMF associated with transmission lines and additional information regarding the mitigation techniques proposed in the bill by Nov. 30.
Such information includes a description of the current standards used by the PUC when considering the health impacts of EMF associated with transmission lines as well as specific references to support the use of those standards.
The PUC also said that it currently considers health impacts of transmission line siting as part of certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) proceedings. The effect on public health and safety is determined on a case by case basis. In 2010, for instance, in granting a CPCN for the Maine Power Reliability Program, the PUC approved a stipulation that set forth, among other things, the requirement that CMP will take all reasonable steps to mitigate EMF consistent with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, including “reverse phasing” wherever practical.
The WHO recommendations include that policymakers and community planners should implement very low-cost measures when building new facilities and designing new equipment including appliances, the PUC added.
CMP, BHE and Maine Public Service Company were asked to provide answers to the questions.
The first one asked the companies to provide information regarding other jurisdictions’setback requirements for electric transmission lines from residential homes, residential care facilities, hospitals, schools, license daycare facilities, playgrounds, youth centers, religious facilities and youth camps for the purpose of mitigating possible EMF effects, and to specify what level of voltage the setback mitigation applies to.
The second question asked the companies to discuss the feasibility and the practical and cost implications of establishing a 300-foot setback for new and possibly rebuilt construction of electric transmission or distribution facilities of 5-kV or higher if they are located near the locations listed in the first question. Included in that question were others such as, would utilities be able to use existing rights of way for transmission lines and, if not, how would that affect the siting and cost of new transmission lines?
The third question sought information regarding potential health impacts of EMF associated with transmission lines and for a description of the current standards used by the PUC when considering the health impacts of EMF associated with transmission lines.
CMP’s parent company is Iberdrola USA, which is a subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A. BHE is wholly owned by Emera.