The Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, in a Sept. 7 order, extended the deadlines for initial and reply comments on Potomac Electric Power Company’s (Pepco) notice of construction (NOC) involving the Capital Grid Project by an additional 90 days, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 9, and from Oct. 2 to Jan. 2, 2018, respectively.
As noted in the order, Pepco in May filed the first of two NOCs for its project. Under the NOC, Pepco proposes to upgrade aging infrastructure, as well as to build two 230-kV underground transmission lines from the Takoma substation to the rebuilt Harvard substation, and from the rebuilt Harvard substation to the rebuilt Champlain substation. The commission added that Pepco also proposes to engage in demolition, site preparation, and substation construction for the rebuilt Harvard and Champlain substations.
The Office of the People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia (OPC) on Aug. 8 filed a motion for enlargement of time, requesting that the initial and reply comments on the NOC be extended by an additional 30 days, and on Aug. 10, Pepco filed its response to OPC’s motion, stating that it does not oppose OPC’s motion as long as the extension of time will not inhibit the commission’s ability to issue an order in time for the construction to begin in March 2018.
The commission added that OPC on Aug. 17 filed a motion for leave to reply and limited reply, stating that the purpose of the filing is to “clarify and further explicate the reasoning in OPC’s motion for enlargement in reply to Pepco’s response.”
Due to the complexity of the NOC application and to provide additional time for interested persons to provide comments and reply comments in response to the commission’s investigation, the commission said that it sua sponte extends the initial and reply comments on the NOC by the additional 90 days – that is, from Aug. 31 to Nov. 29, and from Oct. 2 to Jan. 2, 2018, respectively.
OPC’s motion for enlargement of time and motion for leave to reply and limited reply are rendered moot, the commission said.
OPC’s Aug. 22 petition, Pepco’s response
OPC on Aug. 22 filed a petition in the matter, requesting that the commission establish an investigation into the reasonableness, safety, and need for the project.
“[T]here are numerous factual questions about the reasonableness and need for the project that must be answered before the commission can make the findings required …, and those questions cannot be answered on the basis of the information currently before the commission,” OPC said. “Therefore, an investigation is required.”
OPC said that it is not arguing that Pepco’s NOC is deficient or fails to include the required materials. Rather, OPC said, the need for an investigation is driven by the nature of the project itself. Commission authorization for Pepco to proceed with the project would commit District ratepayers to support a $1bn capital investment in a construction project that ultimately would span a decade or more, according to the OPC.
“[T]here are very real questions about the need for a 230 kV system such as that proposed by Pepco, the need to upgrade the Harvard substation and Champlain substation to 230 kV as opposed to a lower voltage, the design and configuration of the proposed facilities, the load growth assumptions underlying the [project], and the economic impacts of the project on the District,” OPC said.
Among other things, OPC said that it believes that, based upon the ages of the facilities, the Harvard and Champlain substations could be near the end of their useful lives and, if so, it would support the replacement of those facilities.
OPC said that the questions for the commission, however, are whether the company has adequately demonstrated the need to replace the facilities identified in the NOC, and whether the company has demonstrated that, upon retirement of the existing equipment, there is a need to upgrade the Harvard and Champlain substations to 230-kV facilities.
Pepco, in its Sept. 1 response to the petition, said that the relief sought in the petition – to open an investigation – has already been granted and an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary.
Pepco noted that the commission in May issued a notice, sua sponte, opening an investigation into the reasonableness, safety, and need for the underground transmission lines and substations in the NOC because “the activities described in the NOC will likely affect many stakeholders and because Pepco has provided, with its NOC, the information the commission requires when initiating an investigation pursuant to Chapter 21 of Title 15 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations.”
The commission’s notice set forth the procedure under which the NOC would be considered, which allowed for comments and not for further petitions, the company said, adding: “Filing the petition is contrary to the commission’s designated procedure for commenting on the NOC. The petition is unnecessary, duplicative and procedurally improper and should be rejected.”
Pepco said that the commission is already conducting a paper hearing and multiple community hearings. No further hearings are necessary, Pepco said, adding that the use of the information that it provided, comments filed by intervening parties after the opportunity for discovery, and community hearings is consistent with certain requirements as well as the commission’s treatment of prior investigations of reasonableness, safety and need for underground transmission lines and substations.
Among other things, Pepco said that it is meeting with OPC to allow OPC to ask the company’s experts the questions identified in the petition as well as other questions on topics that OPC subsequently identified. In addition, Pepco said that it continues to meet with community members to explain the project, as well as to answer questions and concerns that have been raised.