DP asks county for support on Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway project

Delmarva Power officials this week asked Sussex County Council members for their support of the planned Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway project (MAPP), which would bring a 500 kilovolt electrical transmission line from southern Maryland across the Chesapeake Bay to connect to the Indian River Power Plant.

Delmarva Power’s Jim Smith on Oct. 27 described MAPP as “arguably one of the most important projects that Delmarva Power has ever undertaken.”

Jerry Elliot, a retired Delmarva Power employee and consultant who Elliot said has extensive experience on transmission projects, said MAPP will work to prevent brownouts and blackouts as the area’s electrical grid reaches capacity in the coming years, as well as to lower costs for consumers and provide a bigger pipeline for renewable energy resources to be brought onto the Delmarva Peninsula.

As planned, MAPP would begin in southern Maryland, bringing a 500kv power line across that area, tying into the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, Chalk Point steam-electric station and the coal-fired Possum Point power plant before heading under the Chesapeake Bay and into Sussex County, Del., where the line will terminate at the coal-fired Indian River Generating Station near Millsboro.

Elliot said the company is looking for support from local governments and other supporters as it seeks approval from Maryland’s Public Service Commission when it files a required certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) there.

“We’re engaged in a vigorous outreach and education effort to inform public about this project,” he said. “We’re trying to gain support, and we’ve been very successful at that. We have to file a CPCN in Maryland before we can do any work in the state, and we’re asking for letters of support to the Maryland Public Service Commission.”

With work on the project planned to commence in 2012, Elliot said it had already garnered support from Delaware Electric Co-op, Choptank Electric and a municipal customers group in Delaware.

“This will improve the cost of power for all customers, not just Delmarva Power customers,” Elliot emphasized, by bringing more power into the peninsula. But, he noted, “Dorchester County (Md.) doesn’t support this yet.”

Environmental impacts a major concern about project

Particularly in Dorchester County, where new right-of-way is needed, concerns about MAPP have focused largely on the project’s potential impact on the environment, including any impacts on threatened and endangered species, natural resources and local business, such as farms, as the project wends 150 to 171 miles from Possum Point to Indian River. (The path through Dorchester County has yet to be finalized, yielding only a range for the total project length until that is decided.)

County Councilwoman Joan Deaver cited some of those environmental concerns in querying Elliot about the project.

“Why stop at Indian River?” she asked. “The drawings I saw went through the bay to New Jersey. … It’s going to go through all our parkland,” she said.

Elliot explained that the project’s scope had changed from the original proposal.

That original plan called for the line to continue from Indian River to the Salem Harbor nuclear plant in New Jersey, but studies by PJM – the transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in the region – showed that the existing infrastructure in that area was, Elliot said, “more than capable” of providing the backup that had been desired in initially designing the project path as a loop.

Addressing the concerns about parklands, he noted that transmission lines already run through the Bombay Hook wildlife refuge and other areas along Delaware’s bays. He emphasized that the northern section of the original proposed path is no longer even included in PJM’s 15-year planning report. “There was no need to spend the additional dollars,” he said.

In fact, Elliot noted, the project generally follows rights-of-way where transmission lines already exist. The 500kv line, he said, would be placed on top of that same right-of-way where it exists, limiting the need to disturb any additional land.

Dorchester County is the one area where additional right-of-way and significant restoration is expected to be needed. Oyster-bed restoration in the project areas along and in the Chesapeake Bay is also anticipated. A special ship will lay the continuous line from inside its hull across the floor of the bay.

While the project no longer calls for direct impacts in those areas of extreme environmental concern in Sussex and to the north, Deaver said she was also concerned about another possible environmental impact of the project.

“It goes to the Indian River power plant, which is really out of date. You’re talking about fossil fuels and nuclear power. I don’t see any renewable power here,” she said.

Elliot said the project would help bring electrical power from renewable sources across the entire region.

“The wind farm can’t get power into the peninsula because there’s no transmission,” he said, adding that “nuclear power will be part of the mix. You do have nuclear power in PJM. You have natural gas.

“Nuclear power’s not coming here, just the electricity,” County Councilman George Cole emphasized.

But Deaver was not won over by that argument.

“You’re bringing nuclear power over to us from Maryland. … You’re exploiting an outdated resource,” she said. “Nuclear power is dirty. It’s non-renewable. You all are way behind the times.”

Updated electrical grid could clear way for cheaper, green energy

Elliot on Tuesday championed MAPP as a major step for the region’s electrical system, as it will move power from various power plants to other parts of the region.

“Delmarva is devoid of those connections,” he said, other than in the most northern parts of New Castle County.

The limited connections, Elliot said, combined with ongoing growth in population and demand for power, mean there is growing potential for blackouts and brownouts.

“With the line installed, those were able to be resolved,” he said of PJM’s planning studies.

Elliot also noted concern in the federal government over the nation’s outdated electrical grid, pointing specifically to a push from the U.S. Department of Energy to update the system.

“There’s been little built in the last two decades, and none on the Delmarva Peninsula in 25 years,” he pointed out. The DoE, he said has said that there is a “national interest in an electric transmission corridor” that would run from New York down I-95 to the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area and on the Delmarva Peninsula.

“Without MAPP, essentially our future reliability is in jeopardy,” Elliot emphasized. “The demand we’ll have in 2014 will mean there’s insufficient capacity to meet that demand unless MAPP is put in place.”

Even though the economic downturn appears to have led to some reduction in demand, Elliot said anticipated long-term growth still shows MAPP needs to be in place by 2014 in order to prevent possible reliability problems.

Additionally, he said, MAPP will lead to a lower cost for power, because it will enable power providers to purchase less expensive power and bring it into the area even at times when the existing system is congested, which, at present, forces them to purchase power at a higher cost.

“There are times when the transmission system is limited to bringing power from west to east,” because of congestion, he said. “Higher-cost power is brought on line in demand areas when more economical power is available that, if the transmission line existed, could be used.”

Elliot said Delmarva has estimated that it pays $215 million more for power per year in southern Maryland than it would have to if MAPP was built and able to provide less expensive power. In Delmarva, that number is about $100 million per year. “We should save about 25 percent of that with MAPP, and that could become higher over time,” he said. The savings could potentially be passed on to consumers.

With improvements to transmission, enhanced conservation and new generation in the region, Elliot added, MAPP would stabilize prices, as well as improve reliability. He said that could mean $600 million in savings going back to customers.

Elliot contended on Oct. 27 that MAPP will be a boon for clean energy solutions.

“There are number of projects planned in PJM’s district, including wind, solar and nuclear, that would give us cleaner energy solutions,” he said. “The state has mandated that in the next six to 10 years, the utilities are going to need to require 15 to 20 percent of their portfolio to come from clean generation. This will provide pipeline to bring some of that generation into the area.”

Including the Bluewater Wind wind farm planned for off Rehoboth Beach, Elliot said there are nearly 500 “clean energy” generation projects proposed for PJM’s generating area.

“Some people say it will deter the use of renewable energy,” Elliot conceded. “I think that’s wrong. It will provide a bigger pipeline and will encourage more renewable generation. Those projects are defeated because they need a pipeline to get into the system. The cost of transmission often kills these projects.”

Local impacts include potential jobs

In addition to the potential for green energy distribution, Elliot said, the project could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to the region in the short term, including construction and support jobs.

In Sussex County, the project will run 27 miles from the Maryland-Delaware state line to the Indian River substation, from Delmar through Dagsboro and to the power plant near Millsboro. Building over existing right-of-way and lines, the project will include new steel transmission poles in the same locations, each standing 155 to 165 feet tall.

Utilizing DC power instead of AC, the project will run on two lines instead of three, and it will terminate at a new AC/DC converter station near the IR power plant so it can be connected into the rest of the system. Elliot said DC power is considered much more controllable than AC power. He also said Delmarva Power will be looking for public input on the aesthetic look for the lines.

For the converter station, he said, Delmarva Power is acquiring 135 acres of land. A more traditional substation will also be located on the site and connected into the system.

“We will make sure we do all the studies necessary,” he assured the council. “Environmental studies very important,” he added, noting that DP has already completed its Phase 1 studies and an endangered and threatened species study for the fall. Another such study will be done in the spring. That could mean DP would be ready to file permits by late next year.

“We will be sensitive to the environmental impacts,” he emphasized. “We work in wetlands all the time.”

“This is one of most important projects Delmarva Power has undertaken,” Elliot reiterated. “It will eliminate the single-source problem that we’ve dealt with forever and it will provide less-costly power for customers because of reduced congestion.”

Though DP’s appeal was for formal support for MAPP from the Sussex County Council, they were not given such support on Oct. 27.

“We can’t offer anything to you today,” Council President Vance Phillips told Elliot and Smith, citing concerns about a potential conflict of interest in light of the fact that the county will have to rule in the future on zoning requests for the converter station. The county’s attorney cautioned against such a formal recommendation for the project on those grounds.

Deaver also told the Delmarva Power representatives that she would like to see the project be more oriented toward renewable power before it becomes a reality.