The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Power Plant Research Program (PPRP) on April 2 told the Maryland Public Service Commission that it recommends that Baltimore Gas and Electric’s (BGE) request for a waiver of the certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) requirement connected to an existing overhead transmission line project be denied.
As noted in the April 2 filing, Exelon’s (NYSE:EXC) BGE requests the waiver based on Section 7-207(b)(3)(ii) of the Public Utilities Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, which allows the commission to grant a CPCN waiver for specific work on the existing Five Forks to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border transmission line for “good cause.”
The existing BGE 115-kV overhead transmission line runs about 1.8 miles between the Five Forks substation and the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, the filing said, adding that that portion of the line consists of two circuits – Circuit Nos. 110901-1 and 110901-2 – installed on parallel lattice tower structures. The filing added that that section of the line is more than 100 years old, and according to BGE, has experienced substantial reliability problems.
There were 27 reliability related events that occurred during the past 10 years due to aging splices, aging infrastructure, and avian interference, the filing noted, adding that BGE also said that due to the age of the line, it does not conform to current engineering standards and clearance requirements that are intended to improve reliability and reduce avian-related outages.
For the project, BGE intends to replace the 40 existing parallel lattice towers with 12 double-circuit, weathering steel monopoles to be located in the middle of two existing lattice tower lines. The existing steel lattice tower structures range in height from 64 to 77 feet, the filing added, noting that the replacement monopoles would range in height from 80 feet to 115 feet. The current conductors are 634.9kcm 12/7 ACAR (0.914 inches in diameter) and 300kcm 19 strand AAC (0.629 inches in diameter) would be replaced with the larger 795kcm 30/19 ACSR “Mallard” conductor (1.4 inches in diameter).
The filing also noted that BGE submits five different showings of “good cause” in its request for a waiver, including that the work would be in an existing right of way (ROW), so no new property needs to be obtained; the total number of towers would be replaced; and the project would improve reliability.
The filing noted that after review of BGE’s proposed transmission line modification, the PPRP recommends that the request to waive CPCN requirements be denied for these reasons:
- There is no existing CPCN – Given that the line is 100 years old, there is no existing CPCN or CPCN conditions in place to assure compliance with current state requirements. If the CPCN process is waived for modification of the line, it would continue to be operated and maintained for decades without benefit of a CPCN review, including public comment. Furthermore, the Five Forks to Maryland-Pennsylvania border transmission line is only a portion of a BGE transmission line that continues on for about 20 miles south into the Baltimore area, the entirety of which is not currently subject to CPCN conditions. Given its age, the remaining portions of the line would likely require similar upgrades in the very near future. If the portion of the line receives a waiver from CPCN review, BGE would likely request similar waivers of CPCN review for those anticipated projects. Given that there is no CPCN, BGE is subject to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA). If BGE is required to go through the CPCN process, the state would research the length of the ROW and could recommend conditions regarding limiting unnecessary tree clearing to mitigate the impacts of the fragmentation due to the ROW. According to the waiver request, BGE proposes possible tree clearing or trimming between existing Tower Nos. 83-85, 88-89, and 98-100 that is subject to mitigation, if necessary, consistent with the FCA. Specifically, the trees between Tower Nos. 98-100 are in the vicinity of a crossing with Broad Creek, which is upstream of a Tier II stream segment, and thus, merits thorough scrutiny
- Potential impacts to natural resources – The removal of 40 existing towers and the installation of 12 new towers over a 1.8-mile span is significant work. BGE’s drawings provided to PPRP indicate an area of disturbance of about 13 acres, requiring eight access points along the route. BGE has not shown PPRP adequate documentation to assure that the on-the-ground work would not result in significant impacts to the environment. Also, the avian interference on the existing transmission line could indicate that the bird population in the area may be impacted by the construction of the new towers. As indicated by a letter to BGE from the DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Services, the area is known to be a general location for a rare, threatened and endangered (RTE) species. Through the CPCN process, the commission can assure protection of the RTE species by adopting appropriate conditions for construction, operation, and maintenance of the line
- Reliability and timing – PPRP understands that the project would address ongoing reliability issues that have occurred over the last 10 years. However, BGE does not set forth any timing constraints, nor does it provide a deadline for the modification. Thus, there is no basis to expedite the project. During a Feb. 19 meeting with BGE about its waiver request, PPRP learned that BGE is not aware of any plans by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) to modify the portion of the line – Five Forks to Face Rock – north of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border in the near future. As such, only minimal safety and reliability gains would be achieved by upgrading only the Maryland portion of the line
- Public engagement – Granting a waiver to modify the Five Forks to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border transmission line would remove the public engagement and public comment from the process. While BGE has taken steps to reach out to the county and local residents, those activities do not allow the public an opportunity to provide “on the record” statements or written comments. Yet, given the potential impact of the project, thorough public outreach is needed in this case. Thus, a CPCN should be required to ensure that the public and local elected officials have the opportunities afforded by the CPCN process to voice their concerns and, subsequently, the commission has the requisite process to consider and appropriately address them
The filing added that the PPRP understands that there are instances where it is appropriate to grant a waiver to a transmission line modification project for “good cause.” For instance, in a recent waiver request, BGE was granted permission to modify an existing 115-kV transmission line to connect with a newly built substation, all located within the Sparrows Point industrial property. PPRP did not oppose the waiver in that case, the filing added, noting that in this instance, however, PPRP believes that BGE’s “good cause” rationale for receiving a waiver is far outweighed by the public benefit provided by the CPCN process.
Nick Alexopulos, senior communications specialist, BGE, on April 11 told TransmissionHub: “BGE submitted its application for a CPCN waiver on Jan. 11, 2019, explaining why we felt it was appropriate. The Commission considered BGE’s request at its administrative meeting last week, and has granted the parties additional time to look into the request. BGE hopes to come to a resolution with the parties involved, including DNR, that will allow the project to proceed in a timely manner.”