The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff, in a May 18 report filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), said that AEP Ohio Transmission Company (AEP Ohio Transco) has demonstrated the basis of need of the company’s proposed Bell Ridge-Devola 138-kV Transmission Line Project due to the reliability issues caused by the age of the existing 23-kV transmission system.
The proposed facility would allow the transmission system to provide safe and reliable electric service, staff said.
As noted in the report, AEP Ohio Transco is an affiliate of AEP Ohio/Ohio Power Company, and is a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP).
AEP Ohio Transco last December filed an application seeking a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the project, staff noted.
The proposed $12.3m project, which would be located in Washington County, Ohio, would provide additional transmission service to the county, ultimately improving electric service reliability in the southeastern Ohio area, staff said.
AEP Ohio Transco proposes to place the line in service in fall 2020, staff noted.
The preferred route, which is about 10.2 miles long, begins at the proposed Bell Ridge substation and runs south for about 0.3 mile to the existing AEP Ohio Transco 23-kV transmission line, staff said. The route then runs for about 6.9 miles west/southwest until it reaches Lynch Church Road. Staff added that the route then travels northwest 0.2 mile, then southwest 0.1 mile, before continuing west for another 1.9 miles. The route continues west for 0.4 mile, crossing over U.S. Route 77 and Mill Creek Road, before turning northwest and terminating at the proposed Devola substation, staff added.
The proposed facility is part of the company’s broader program to modernize the southeast Ohio transmission and distribution network, staff noted, adding that the program is intended to enhance the reliability of the region’s aging 23-kV distribution system by adding new transmission elements and ultimately providing a looped 138-kV transmission system in southeast Ohio.
According to the company, staff said, 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.
Discussing socioeconomic impacts, staff said that there are 114 residences within 1,000 feet of the preferred route centerline, none of which are located within the potential disturbance area. The nearest residence is located 23 feet away from the right of way (ROW) for the preferred route, staff said, adding that the primary impact on existing residences would be that they would experience temporary ambient noise increases during facility construction.
The preferred route is located within 1,000 feet of nine commercial buildings and five industrial buildings, staff said, adding that none of those buildings is located within the planned disturbance area. No negative impacts to commercial or industrial land uses are anticipated because of the project, staff noted.
The preferred and alternate routes both cross a portion of the Wayne National Forest, with 5.5% of the preferred route and less than 0.1% of the alternate route crossing the forest, staff said. No schools, hospitals, nor civic buildings were identified as being within 1,000 feet of the preferred or alternate routes, staff said, adding that there is one church located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route, but not within the area of disturbance.
No negative impacts to institutional and recreational land uses are expected from the construction, operation, or maintenance of either the preferred or the alternate routes for the project, staff said.
The company’s cultural resources consultant determined that the project would not involve or impact any significant cultural resources or landmarks, and that no further cultural resource management work was considered to be necessary, staff said. The findings were submitted to the Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO), which responded to the consultant on Feb. 12, in concurrence that the project would not affect those resources.
Staff added that the company has not completed archaeological investigations for the portions of either route within the Wayne National Forest (WNF), as it is coordinating that effort with the U.S. Forest Service. The company has submitted a permit for archaeological investigations per the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (or ARPA permit), and staff recommends that any remaining archaeological fieldwork within the WNF for either route that is approved by the Board be completed prior to construction, staff said. The results of any additional archaeological fieldwork are to be submitted to OHPO and staff upon completion, staff noted.
Discussing ecological impacts, staff said, for instance, that the company did not identify any listed plant or animal species during field surveys. Further, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) did not identify any concerns regarding impacts to listed plant species, staff said.
Staff noted that in the unexpected event that the company encounters listed plant or animal species during construction, staff recommends that the company contact staff, the ODNR, and the USFWS, as applicable. Staff said that it further recommends that if the company encounters any listed plant or animal species prior to construction, the company include the location and how impacts would be avoided in the final access plan to be provided to staff.
The project would result in both temporary and permanent impacts to the project area, staff said, adding that the preferred route parallels the existing maintained ROW and follows the route of the existing utility lines for the majority of its length. The preferred route requires less tree clearing and is more accessible for construction purposes, staff said, adding that it therefore concludes that the preferred route represents the minimum adverse environmental impact when compared to the alternate route.
Staff said that it recommends that the OPSB find that the preferred route represents the minimum adverse environmental impact, and therefore complies with certain requirements, provided that any certificate issued by the OPSB for the proposed facility include the conditions specified in the staff report.
The conditions include that within 60 days after the start of commercial operation of the project, the company is to submit to staff a copy of the as-built specifications for the entire facility.
The filing also noted 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.
Among other things, the conditions also call for the company to adhere to seasonal cutting dates of Oct. 1 through March 31 for removal of any trees greater than or equal to three inches in diameter, unless coordination with the ODNR and the USFWS allows a different course of action.