The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff, in a Sept. 22 report of investigation filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), recommended that the OPSB find that the basis of need for the proposed Macksburg-Devola 138-kV Transmission Line Project has been demonstrated and therefore complies with certain requirements, provided that any certificate issued by the OPSB include certain conditions.
As noted by staff, AEP Ohio Transmission Company (AEP Ohio Transco) has proposed to own, build, operate, and maintain the proposed project in Washington County, Ohio.
The new overhead line would connect the proposed Macksburg and Devola substations, staff said, adding that the company proposes a 100-foot right of way (ROW) for the new line.
The preferred route, which is about 15.5 miles long, begins in the northern part of Washington County at the proposed Macksburg substation and winds south about three miles in parallel with Interstate 77. The route crosses over Interstate 77, immediately merges into the “common route” and crosses back over Interstate 77 for a distance of about two miles, staff added.
The route then separates as the preferred route and continues along the west side of Interstate 77 for about three miles. The route then splits into two branches northwest of the intersection of Washington County Road 8 and Washington County Road 316, staff added.
The western branch of the preferred route continues southwest about 1.9 miles before turning to the northwest and connecting to the proposed Buell substation. Staff also said that the eastern branch runs south, parallel to Interstate 77, for about 1.2 miles before crossing over to the east side of Interstate 77. Then, the route continues south for about 2.1 miles where it connects to the existing Highland Ridge substation. The route continues from there, crossing back over to the west side of Interstate 77 and continuing south for about 3.1 miles, where it terminates at the proposed Devola substation.
The proposed facility is part of a broader program to modernize the southeast Ohio transmission and distribution network, staff added, noting that the program is intended to enhance the reliability of the region’s aging 23-kV distribution system by adding many new transmission elements and ultimately providing a looped 138-kV transmission system in southeast Ohio.
Staff said that the company has shown that, without the installation of the proposed project and associated projects in the southeast Ohio area, anticipated load growth and aging infrastructure would cause reliability issues.
The proposed facility is not expected to adversely impact the existing transmission grid and would allow the transmission system to provide safe, reliable electric service, while meeting all the applicable planning criteria, staff said.
Discussing socioeconomic impacts, staff noted that the preferred route would cross 123 properties, while the “alternate route,” which is about 16.5 miles long, would cross 145 properties. There are 90 residences within 1,000 feet and no residences within 100 feet of the preferred route centerline. Staff added that there are 154 residences within 1,000 feet of the alternate route, seven of which are within 100 feet of the alternate route centerline. No negative impacts to institutional and recreational land uses are expected from the construction, operation, or maintenance of either route, staff said.
Permanent visual impacts would result from the introduction of a new manmade element to the landscape, staff said, adding that aesthetic impacts would vary with the viewer and setting, depending on the degree of contrast between the proposed transmission line and the existing landscape.
Staff also noted that the total intangible and capital costs for the preferred route is about $27.5m, compared to about $28.9m for the alternate route.
Of ecological impacts, staff said that the preferred route right of way (ROW) contains 86 streams, including 25 perennial streams, 27 intermittent streams, and 34 ephemeral streams, while the alternate route ROW contains 93 streams, of which 24 are perennial streams, 28 are intermittent streams, and 41 are ephemeral streams. Also, the preferred route ROW contains 30 wetlands, with 1.6 total acres of wetland within the ROW, while the alternate route ROW contains 22 wetlands, with 2.6 acres of wetland within the ROW.
Among other things, staff said that the project area is within the range of state and federal endangered Indiana bat and the federal threatened northern long-eared bat. In order to avoid impacts to the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat, staff said that it recommends that the company adhere to seasonal tree cutting dates of Oct. 1 through March 31 for all trees over three inches in diameter, unless coordination with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allows a different course of action. Staff also noted that the project would not disturb any hibernacula including caves or abandoned mines.
Other recommended conditions include that the facility is to be installed on the company’s preferred route as presented in the application and as modified and/or clarified by supplemental filings, for instance.
Also, the company is to conduct a preconstruction conference prior to the start of any construction activities.
Staff also said that another condition calls for the certificate to become invalid if the company has not started a continuous course of construction of the proposed facility within five years of the date of journalization of the certificate.
Additionally, the company is to contact staff, the ODNR and the USFWS within 24 hours if state or federal threatened or endangered species are encountered during construction activities, staff said.
Another condition calls for the company to, prior to construction, finalize coordination of the assessment of potential effects of the proposed transmission line on cultural resources, if any, with staff and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.
As noted in the report, AEP Ohio Transco is a transmission-only affiliate of AEP Ohio/Ohio Power Company, and is a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP).