Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) is assisting community groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States with concerns regarding existing and proposed transmission lines. While transmission lines can be a good way to maintain reliable electric service in some instances, far too often major new lines are proposed because of the tremendous profits they can produce.
This website summarizes the key issues associated with major transmission lines along with strategies for defeating poorly conceived projects. If you have any questions, including how CEDS can assist you with transmission-line related concerns, contact us at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.
When CEDS first became involved in these cases we intensively researched how citizens fared in transmission line battles throughout the USA. This research showed a pattern we had seen with numerous other issues:
Citizens generally lost when they fought with just lawyers and experts, but the probability of success tripled when legal action was coupled with an aggressive political strategy.
Political action makes success far more likely because:
Combining aggressive political action with Smart Legal Strategies - another CEDS innovation - further increases the probability of success. We call the combined approach Politically Oriented Advocacy. This approach dramatically increases the likelihood citizens will win transmission line cases. Consider the following example.
The Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) is a 500 kilovolt backbone line originally supposed to run 230 miles from Virginia, through Maryland and Delaware, to end in New Jersey. When CEDS began assisting citizens with MAPP in late 2008, State officials were all of the same opinion - the transmission line was urgently needed to keep the lights on. We drafted an Initial Strategy Analysis setting forth options for ensuring MAPP would not harm nearby residents. A principle component of the analysis was an aggressive political organizing strategy along with the technical analysis required to support our arguments. The attitude of decision-makers changed dramatically as we implemented the strategy over the ensuing months. In fact, recently nine State experts registered their opposition to MAPP. These experts were hired by some of the same agencies who'd strongly supported MAPP a year before.
Normally citizens pay upwards of $400,000 for just expert witness testimony in transmission line cases. In MAPP our clients paid but $5,000 or 1% of the total cost of the expert testimony. MAPP was put on hold by the State agencies for four months and the Delaware portion was indefinitely postponed. For a more complete description of successes thus far and why we are confident our clients concerns will be resolved, see the MAPP section below.
A critical component of Politically Oriented Advocacy is not just opposing something but coming up with a way that makes things better. In the case of transmission lines our better way has taken the form of Comprehensive Energy Planning. Few states have a plan which: 1) shows future energy needs, 2) identifies all reasonable options for meeting those needs, 3) compares those options with respect to cost, reliability, environmental effects, etc., then 4) selects those energy choices which provide the greatest benefits with the fewest negative effects. While not right for every situation, this form of planning does show how citizens can avert an imminent threat and use their political clout to bring about a better future for all.
CEDS prepared a map and table showing the location and outcome of ten of the recent transmission line campaigns we researched. To view the map and table click the following text: Recent Transmission Successes.
There is a growing consensus that the electro magnetic field (EMF) emitted by transmission lines pose a genuine health threat. For example, in 2006 the State of Maryland concluded: "Studies have consistently shown increased risk for childhood leukemia associated with ELF magnetic fields..." A 2005 study conducted in England and Wales showed that one out of every hundred or so cases of childhood leukemia occurring within 2,000 feet of a high-voltage (≥132 kilovolt) transmission line was due to EMF from the line. A number of states now require applicants to show that EMF from proposed transmission lines will not exceed safety thresholds. The following publications provide further detail on EMF and transmission lines.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with the authority to override State action on certain transmission line projects. This authority, known as backstop, applies to transmission lines located within one of two National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC). FERC had interpreted the Act to allow the Commission to approve a NIETC project if a state denied an application or failed to act within one year of receiving an application.
In February 2009 the Piedmont Environmental Council won a decision in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals which restricted backstop authority to instances where a state fails to act within one year. In other words, if a state denies a NIETC transmission line for legitimate reasons, then FERC backstop authority cannot be used to reverse the denial.
New transmission lines are usually justified with projections showing that the service area faces an imminent threat of blackouts or other electricity problems. After reviewing the findings from numerous independent evaluations of these projections, it is clear to CEDS that the threat is frequently overstated. Following are a couple of the more common shortcomings.
Flawed Growth Projections: This shortcoming results from reliance upon outdated electricity use projections based on long term trends showing continued growth well into the future. However, growth in electricity use has been slowing since 2002, it was flat in 2007-2008, then declined in 2009 (at least in the Mid-Atlantic states).
This trend is likely to continue due to increased efficiency caused by higher prices as well as state initiatives increasing demand-response and energy conservation. Even as the economy rebounds it is unlikely that growth in electricity use will return to pre-2002 levels.
In the near future utilities will begin supplying customers with advanced (smart) metering equipment which will accelerate conservation and further reduce peak-demand. And it is peak-demand which generally drives the supposed need for new transmission lines.
Flawed Modeling: Criteria for analyzing electric service reliability are established by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). Good utility planning practice dictates the use of not only accurate electricity use projections but sound modeling. However, the applicant need analyses we've reviewed frequently show several bad planning practices. First, realistic reductions in energy use through demand-response and conservation are not included. Second, proposed increases in generating capacity are not included even though the increase meets NERC criteria for inclusion. Third, projections are based upon highly unreliable extrapolations rather then the required contingency analyses. Fourth, alternatives such as upgrades to existing transmission lines and substations are not thoroughly evaluated then compared to the proposed backbone project.
There have been a number of studies regarding the effect of transmission lines on property value. Taken as a whole, these studies show varying effects in terms of dollar amount, distance and duration. The following studies show a 4% to 25% decline in the value of properties located 1,000-feet or more from a transmission line.
FERC policy allows Regional Transmission Organizations (RTO) to spread the cost for larger transmission line projects (≥500 kilovolt) over their entire service area. For example, PJM is the RTO for a 13-state area and Washington, D.C. All customers within this area pay part of the cost for building four new backbone lines estimated to cost $15 billion even though the lines benefit but three PJM states. This policy is known as socialization.
Those who do not directly benefit from one of these projects question why they should pay even a small part of the cost. In August 2009 the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard a case challenging socialization. The 7th Circuit remanded the case back to a lower court. Depending upon the outcome, this case may overturn the current approach to socialization and force only those who directly benefit to pay for backbone projects.
Following are some good publications introducing the basics of electricity and transmission lines.
$6.4 million/mile = Overhead AC
$8.8 million/mile = Overhead HVDC
$23.7 million/mile = Underground HVDC (61% of which is converter station cost which may be an apples to oranges comparison)
The towers supporting a transmission line may be 200-feet tall or more. The right-of-way, which may measure 50- to 600-feet in width, is frequently cleared of all vegetation except grass or other low-growing plants. Depending upon topography, forests, and other factors a transmission line may be visible from a distance of three miles or more. In fact, those who study the effect of new transmission lines on views commonly begin their analysis three miles out. When passing through forest, a transmission line corridor appear as an ugly gash across the landscape. Such a scene detracts from the beauty of an otherwise natural view. When located near a community, transmission lines can lend an industrial feel to what otherwise tranquil residential neighborhood.
Electrical substations serve to step down the higher voltages carried by transmission lines. Substations also perform a number of other critical functions, such as preventing overloads. As the name implies, converter stations house the equipment used to convert electricity from AC to DC or the reverse.
Substations vary considerably in size with the largest covering 20 acres. However, PATH would end at the Kemptown substation with an area of about eight acres. The two MAPP converter stations would cover 14- to 18-acres with a height of 60- to 70-feet.
Quality of life impacts associated with substations may include:
Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) requested wetland permits to extend the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) transmission line across the Potomac River, through Charles and Prince George's County to the Chalk Point power plant on the Patuxent River. Permits are required from both the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The public comment period ended on March 1, 2011.
On March 4th, MDE sent the following letter to Pepco setting forth additional information required to continue the application review:
Two government agencies submitted comments to MDE:
Detailed comments were submitted by:
In addition, 40 individuals and 7 organizations submitted comments expressing concern about MAPP wetland impacts:
Finally, MDE received comments from 7 groups supportive of the MAPP project:
MAPP was originally proposed as a 230 mile, extra-high voltage transmission line running from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and ending in New Jersey. The route included crossing the Chesapeake Bay and Dorchester County. CEDS was retained by the owners of farms and commercial forests threatened by the overhead transmission line. In addition to concerns about direct impacts to their property, the farm and forest owners were also troubled by how the project could damage some of the most sensitive environmental- and cultural-resources in Maryland.
One of the first actions undertaken by CEDS was to compile an Initial Strategy Analysis. In the analysis we determined which of our clients concerns were likely to occur, we examined other potential impacts, identified potential technical solutions for each impact, then set forth a political and legal strategy for ensuring MAPP would not be approved until all impacts were resolved to the satisfaction of our clients. The analysis has evolved and expanded considerably over the past year. Unfortunately we cannot release the current edition. Following are a few of the many, major milestones thus far in this highly successful campaign.
The following websites provide additional information regarding the MAPP project.
The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project is a 765-kilovolt (kV) transmission line proposed to extend for 275 miles from Charleston, West Virginia through Virginia to end at Kemptown, Maryland.
Our first public document regarding PATH can be viewed by clicking the following title:
Expert Witness Testimony Presented Before the Virginia State Corporation Commission
Read Bill Howley's great blog, The Power Line, to learn more about PATH.
Applicant's website: PATH
A ten-mile long, 115 kilovolt transmission line was proposed to bisect a family farm along Interstate 99 north of Bedford, PA. CEDS assisted the family in negotiating a change which caused the transmission line to completely bypass the farm. CEDS wishes to thank FirstEnergy for accommodating the change.
On August 8th PJM staff recommended a halt to both the MAPP and PATH transmission line projects. This action resulted from modeling that showed neither project was needed to maintain the reliability of electric service for at least the next 15 years. A combination of declining energy use and new generating facilities have resolved issues that once threatened reliability. PJM is scheduled to act on the staff recommendation on August 24th.
When both projects first emerged numerous individuals and citizen groups began raising questions about need and alternatives that might satisfy that need without such sweeping impacts to homes, farms, the environment, electricity prices, and other factors. This prompted elected officials to pose these same questions. This in turn slowed down the permitting process while essential studies were initiated. Had citizens not acted then these multi-billion dollars transmission lines could have been in the midst of construction by the time we learned that neither was needed.
A truly comprehensive energy planning process is urgently needed to prevent such unwarranted, ultra-expensive projects from taking our energy future in the wrong direction. We sincerely hope the MAPP and PATH near-disasters serve as a wake-up call.