A Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) administrative law judge (ALJ) has recommended that the state regulators grant PPL Electric Utilities’ application for approval of the siting and construction of the transmission lines associated with the Northeast-Pocono Reliability Project.
ALJ David Salapa said in his Oct. 21 recommended decision that the PUC should grant the company’s petitions for findings that the control equipment buildings at the West Pocono and North Pocono substations are necessary for the convenience and welfare of the public. Also, the PUC should grant the applications for findings that the service to be furnished by PPL through its proposed exercise of the power of eminent domain to acquire portions of the lands of the 27 property owners is necessary or proper for the service, accommodation, convenience or safety of the public.
“PPL has met its burden to prove that its application requesting approval of the siting and construction of the proposed Northeast-Pocono Reliability Project 230 kV and 138 kV transmission lines are necessary or proper for the accommodation, convenience and safety of its patrons, employees and the public,” Salapa added.
As TransmissionHub reported, the PPL (NYSE:PPL) company said in its Aug. 26 brief filed with the PUC that the project is required to resolve certain reliability and planning violations and reinforce the existing 69-kV systems in six counties by bringing a new source of 230-kV supply into the area.
PPL proposed to build a new 58-mile, 230-kV line and about 11.3 miles of new 138/69-kV lines needed to connect the new West Pocono and North Pocono 230-69-kV substations with the existing 69-kV system.
It also sought findings that the exercise of the power of eminent domain to acquire rights-of-way (ROW) across 29 tracts of land is necessary or proper as well as findings that the locations of the buildings to shelter control equipment at the West Pocono and North Pocono 230-69-kV substations are reasonably necessary for the convenience or welfare of the public.
As of late August, the cost estimate was $247m. The project is to be completed in stages with a scheduled construction start date of spring 2014 to meet staged in-service dates from November 2015 to November 2017.
Salapa said in his recommended decision that PPL employed a thorough site selection process to develop alternative routes for the project segment where certain properties are located.
The results of a qualitative assessment showed that “Alternative Route D-1” has lower scores for visual and community concerns, construction issues and schedule delay risk. It also scored high with regard to special permit issues.
Based on the evidence presented in the case, Salapa said he “cannot conclude that PPL acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner in failing to adopt … suggestions that Route D-1 be relocated away from their properties. In its site selection process resulting in its selection of Route D-1, PPL considered topography, land use, safety, costs, environmental impacts and alternative routes.”
On the eminent domain issue, Salapa said that PPL’s proposed exercise of the power of eminent domain is necessary, noting that the transmission facilities serving the Northeast-Pocono area are operating near or at their capacity during peak periods. The project “is required to relieve existing and projected overloaded conditions on transmission lines and transformers serving the Northeast-Pocono area.”
The proposed ROW and easement over the properties of the 27 owners “will not cross any place of public worship, burying ground, dwelling or its reasonable curtilage,” he added.