Pennsylvania state regulators on Jan. 9 approved PPL Electric Utilities’ proposed $335m Northeast Pocono Reliability Project, which involves building new electrical substations and a new approximately 60-mile, 230-kV line, mainly in Lackawanna and Wayne counties in Pennsylvania.
Other project work is planned to improve existing 69-kV power lines in the region, PPL (NYSE:PPL), of which PPL Electric Utilities is a subsidiary, added on Jan. 9.
PPL Electric Utilities submitted the project to the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) in late December 2012, the company said, adding that PPL Electric Utilities is working with various agencies to secure necessary environmental permits. Initial work would include tree clearing along the route for the new line.
PPL also said that the project could be complete in 2017.
In a separate Jan. 9 statement, the PUC said it voted 5-0 to approve the project and the company’s application to use eminent domain as part of the project.
“The commission found that the new facilities are necessary and the PPL took reasonable steps to minimize the environmental effects of the construction and maintenance of the facilities,” the PUC said.
The PUC further noted that the decision is consistent with the recommended decision issued in October 2013 by the PUC’s Office of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
In that order, ALJ David Salapa said, “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.”
In its Jan. 9 opinion and order, the PUC said it agrees with Salapa that PPL has met its burden to prove that the project is, among other things, necessary or proper for the accommodation, convenience and safety of its patrons, employees and the public, and that it complies with applicable statutes and regulations providing for the protection of natural resources of the state.
With regard to PPL’s pending eminent domain applications, the PUC said it agrees with Salapa’s conclusions that PPL’s proposed exercise of the power of eminent domain to acquire a right-of-way and easement for the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed project over the lands of the respective property owners is necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience or safety of the public.
Furthermore, the PUC said it agrees with Salapa’s overall conclusion that PPL established that the project will have minimum adverse environmental impact, considering the electric needs of the public, the state of available technology and the available alternatives.
“We also note that when the record establishes that the public utility’s route selection is reasonable, considering all of the factors involved in the selection of a line, as is the case here, the degree of inconvenience to a landowner does not constitute grounds for withholding the exercise of the power to condemn the easement,” the PUC said.
According to the order, PPL Electric Utilities’ proposed new West Pocono and North Pocono 230-69-kV substations will be connected to the existing 230-kV transmission system by the new 58-mile, 230-kV line, which will consist of three segments:
* An approximate 15-mile segment extending between PPL’s existing Jenkins 230-69-kV substation in Plains Township, Luzerne County, Pa., and the proposed new West Pocono 230-69-kV substation in Buck Township, Luzerne County.
* An approximate 21-mile segment extending between the proposed West Pocono 230-69-kV substation and the proposed new North Pocono 230-69-kV substation in Covington Township, Lackawanna County.
* An approximate 22-mile segment extending between the proposed North Pocono 230-69-kV substation and the Paupack 230-69-kV substation in Paupack Township, Wayne County, Pa.
The new West Pocono and North Pocono 230-69-kV substations will also be connected to the existing 69-kV system by five new 138/69-kV lines that will bifurcate and reduce the length of the existing 69-kV lines.
The PUC added that the company asserted that its most current cost estimate for the project is $247m. Conditioned upon PUC approval, the company said that the construction and permitting for the project will be completed in a staged manner, with a scheduled construction start date of spring 2014 to meet staged in-service dates from November 2015 to November 2017, according to the PUC.