Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff, in a June 8 report filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), recommended that the OPSB find that the basis of need for a 138-kV transmission project proposed by AEP Ohio Transmission Company (AEP Ohio Transco) has been demonstrated and therefore complies with certain requirements, provided that any certificate issued by the OPSB for the proposed facility include certain conditions.
As noted in the report, AEP Ohio Transco, which is an affiliate of AEP Ohio/Ohio Power Company and a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP), in late January filed an application for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for construction of the Buckley Road-Fremont Center 138-kV Transmission Line Project.
The proposed line, which would be located in Seneca and Sandusky counties, is designed to improve electric service reliability in the northwestern Ohio area.
Staff added that the company proposes to rebuild about 15 miles of its existing 17.6-mile Allendale-Fremont Center 69-kV infrastructure with 138-kV-capable facilities in Seneca and Sandusky counties. The project would provide direct 138-kV connection between the Buckley Road and Fremont Center 138-kV substations, eliminating a radial feed and adding looped two- way service, staff said.
The existing 69-kV transmission line was placed in service more than 100 years ago, staff said, adding that many of the replacement support structures and hardware components are unavailable. The Amsden Road-Fremont Center 69-kV and Buckley Road-East End Fostoria 69-kV circuits have experienced 56 total outages lasting for about 37,840 minutes between 2007 and 2018, staff said.
According to the company, the project would improve reliability, allow for faster recovery of service when outages occur, improve service to customers by upgrading to modern equipment, and adding looped two-way service.
The preferred route is about 15.4 miles long, with 4.9 miles of the line requiring new right of way (ROW), staff added. The preferred route begins at the existing Allendale-Fremont Center line and runs southwest for about 15.4 miles through the village of Burgoon, through the town of Kansas, and through the town of Amsden, before terminating at the proposed Buckley Road Tap in the city of Fostoria.
Staff added that AEP Ohio Transco estimates the total cost for the preferred route to be about $23.1m, and about $24.1m for the alternate route. The company plans to begin construction in early 2019, and to place the line in service in winter 2020, staff said.
Discussing socioeconomic impacts, staff noted, for instance, that there are 295 residences within 1,000 feet of the preferred route centerline, including both the rebuild and replacement sections of the route. Eleven of the residences are located within 100 feet of the centerline, with the nearest residence located 10 feet away from the proposed ROW for the preferred route, staff said. There are 291 residences within 1,000 feet of the alternate route centerline, four of which are located within 100 feet, staff said.
According to the company, it is unlikely that any residences would need to be removed for construction or operation of the transmission line along either the preferred or alternate route, as both routes were sited to avoid existing residences when taking into account the expanded ROW width. Staff added that the primary impact on existing residences would be that they would experience temporary ambient noise increases during facility construction and subsequent maintenance.
The majority of either route crosses agricultural land and utilizes existing ROW, staff said, adding that 92% of both routes cross agricultural land. For either route, about 135 acres of agricultural land would be utilized for the project, including ROW and access roads, staff said.
Neither the preferred nor alternate route are within 1,000 feet of recreational land use or schools, staff said, adding that there is one church located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route, about 575 feet away. No negative impacts to institutional and recreational land uses are expected from the construction, operation, or maintenance of either the preferred or alternate routes for the project, staff said.
Of ecological impacts, staff noted, for instance, that the project area is within the range of state and federal endangered Indiana bat and the federal threatened northern long-eared bat. As tree roosting species in the summer months, the habitat of those species may be impacted by the project, staff said, adding that in order to avoid impacts to the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat, staff recommends that the company adhere to seasonal tree cutting dates of Oct. 1 through March 31 for all trees over three inches in diameter.
Staff recommended that the OPSB find that the alternate 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 certain conditions.
The alternate route is about 16.7 miles long, with 5.9 miles of the line requiring new ROW from the existing ROW. Staff added that the alternate route begins at the existing Allendale-Fremont Center line and runs southwest around the Village of Burgoon, around the town of Kansas, and around the town of Amsden, before terminating at the proposed Buckley Road Tap in the city of Fostoria.
Staff said that it has analyzed each route independently of one another and concluded that when compared to the alternate route, the preferred route has a significantly greater impact on residential lands. The alternate route has the least amount of wooded areas that would require clearing and avoids the three municipalities that are not avoided by the preferred route, staff said.
The project would result in both temporary and permanent impacts to the project area, staff said, adding that both routes parallel the existing ROW and follow the route of the existing utility lines for the majority of their length. The alternate route requires less tree clearing, is more accessible for construction purposes, and requires fewer impacts to residential areas and their associated land uses, staff said, adding that it therefore concludes that the alternate route represents the minimum adverse environmental impact when compared to the preferred route.
Among other things, staff discussed the conditions that it recommends become part of any certificate issued for the proposed facility. For instance, the company is to conduct a preconstruction conference prior to the start of any construction activities. Also, the certificate is 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, staff added.