Electric line project open house draws hundreds

Andrea Rose
Andrew Brindle and Jessica Scott of Greencastle take a look at the map showing the proposed power line project proposed by Transource Energy during an open house Tuesday in Guilford Township.

A year ago, Stephanie Reed bought her first home in Guilford Township. In July, she hosted a Fourth of July picnic, which she expects will be an annual event because she and her guests have an unobstructed view of the Chambersburg fireworks from her yard.

But if a proposed plan to develop a new overhead electric transmission project is approved, Reed's view may not be anything to celebrate.

“What am I supposed to do? Ask my friends to come over and look at power lines and towers?” she wondered.

"This is my dream home. I'm sick to my stomach at the thought of this," Reed said Tuesday during an open house sponsored by Transource Energy at the Kauffman Community Center.

Hundreds of people attended the open house to learn about the project.

Transource Energy, a partnership between American Electric Power and Great Plains Energy, wants to develop the Independence Energy Connection, a $320 million project connecting two existing 500-kilovolt transmission lines in Pennsylvania to existing substations in Maryland.

The project's proposed electric system upgrades include approximately 40 miles of new 230-kV overhead transmission lines, two new substations and additional upgrades to integrate the facilities into the grid. The goal is to alleviate electric gridlock and increase consumer access to low-cost electricity. 

The east segment of the project includes approximately 15 miles of new overhead electric transmission line that will connect a new substation to be constructed in southern York County to the existing Conastone Substation near Norrisville in Harford County, Maryland.

The west segment of the project will include nearly 25 miles of new overhead electric transmission line that will connect a new substation to be constructed in Franklin County to the existing Ringgold Substation near Smithsburg in Washington County, Maryland.

The towers will include a 65-foot right-of-way on both sides, for a total of a 130-foot easement.

According to Transource officials, 25 miles of line would mean about 125 towers dotting the horizon throughout Franklin County.

“We're looking at probably five towers per mile on average," said Todd Burns, Transource Energy director.

Getting feedback

The open house was one of several Transource Energy, based in Columbus, Ohio, has hosted throughout south-central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. Tuesday's open house was set up more like a job fair than a public forum, with guests invited to meander through a path filled with easels that offered information boards, maps and renderings, before reaching tables at the front of the room that held area maps broken up by quadrant of the county and project. Tables and chairs lined one side of the room so guests could sit down and complete comment forms.

As the residents packed the room, coming and going throughout the three-hour open house, Franklin County sheriff's deputies were on hand in case things became contentious.

About two dozen Transource staff were at each station to answer questions and guide visitors through the process.

The goal of the open house was to take input from residents on Transource's preliminary routes for the Independence Energy Connection.

"We review every comment we receive and discuss them as a team and narrow down route options," Burns explained. "The process has been working well."

Residents who completed a comment sheet should not expect a personal response, but will be kept updated on the project via email.

Burns and his staff will have their work cut out for them after Tuesday evening's meeting, where dozens of people took turns sitting at tables to write down their feedback.

Tiffany Geesaman was one of them, filling nearly the entire 8.5-by-11 comment sheet provided by Transource.

Geesaman's family owns Egolf Family Farms in Quincy Township. The line is slated to go down the middle of the farmland.

"It's beautiful farmland and has been in our family for four generations," Geesaman said.

Geesaman said she and her husband were hoping to build a home approximately right where the proposed line crosses the farm where they plan to raise their daughter and another baby on the way.

"I'm concerned about the safety of [the power lines] being so close to the farm and the house," she said. "Studies have shown it's not safe for farm animals and it's not safe for any of us."

Other citizens agreed.

Ruth Frech, who lives on Manheim Road in Quincy Township, came prepared with a handful of papers, including an article she copied from the International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology that detailed a study on electromagnetic fields.

"Their study raised multiple concerns, from a rise in the risk of leukemia in children to neuropathy in adults, to a 5 percent decrease in milk production in cows living near these power lines," Frech said. "I'm very concerned about the health risks. This doesn't benefit us, and any benefits that they promise would not make up for all these health risks. I'm very upset about it."

"I don't like it," said Jessica Scott of Greencastle. "Where they want to do it is where I grew up riding at Holiquin Riding Center. It would be too much chaos and those towers are dangerous."

"Transource considers this area to be underdeveloped, however that's the way we like it," said Chris Redos of Antrim Township.

Static control

Despite the many negative comments exchanged from person to person around the packed community center, Transource officials said there was also positive feedback.

"We found in this area, people understand the greater need for infrastructure," said Abby Foster, community affairs representative for Transource Energy. "Everyone here benefits from something being on someone's property.

Foster said the positive comments she heard came from residents who see the financial benefits of easements on their properties as costs savings on energy bills.

She said some residents don't like the exact location of the proposed line across their properties but are willing to have it shifted to a different location on their properties.

"There's a lot that has shifted because of public input," Foster said.

Burns said some of the negative feedback is based on misinformation about the project.

"There's a lot of confusion and a lot of things being said that aren't accurate," Burns said.

"I've heard people are concerned about land use and whether they will be able to use their properties," Burns said. "People will still be able to work under the power lines, although obviously there would be a limit on building underneath them. The land is still useable."

Burns said property owners would be compensated for the easements through their land. He said property-owners shouldn't be worried about the threat of eminent domain.

"Our approach is we negotiate fair market value for anything that has to be acquired," he explained. "We use eminent domain less than three percent of the time."

Some residents questioned why the lines have to be overhead on towers.

"Burying lines causes problems," Burns said. "If a line fails and it's underground, it can't be located and fixed immediately. That's what happened recently on the Outer Banks.

"The environmental disturbance is greater to trench and bury a line than to run it overhead. And it's 10 times more costly to do it underground."

Burns said he is confident the Independence Energy Connection will save customers money not just in the greater metropolitan areas south of here, but locally. "The driver is to give customers in this area access to lower costs," he said. He said it is too early to estimate what the cost savings might be, or whether local, independent energy companies will pass the savings on to customers. "They may have other initiatives that will affect your bill," Burns said.

Transource plans to announce a definitive proposed route and file applications with the state by the end of the year.

Construction could begin in 2019, with completion in mid-2020.

"We'll look at a route that strikes the best balance," Burns said, mentioning recreational activities, historic value and land use concerns. "You rarely come up with one that's gonna satisfy all those things. Ultimately, it will be at the state level to decide where it goes."

Nothing said by Transource could sway Frech and many other concerned residents.

"They said they will meet all the regulations, but are the current regulations good enough to protect us?” Frech wondered.

For more information on the project, visit www.TransourceEnergy.com/Projects/Independence.

The company continues to take comments online, by phone and by mail.