House Bill 1241, which would have prohibited substations greater than five acres in size from being located in Maryland Rural Legacy Areas, failed to pass during the legislative session that concluded on April 11. The Valleys Planning Council greatly appreciates the leadership demonstrated by Delegates Dana Stein, Wade Kach, and Dan Morhaim in co-sponsoring this bill. Del. Stein, who represents the Maryland House of Representatives on the board of the Maryland Environmental Trust, sponsored the bill and demonstrated a firm grasp of the issues and principles at stake. He worked diligently to help other members of the Economic Matters Committee gain broader perspective. It is not unusual for a bill such as this to take more than one session to gain traction, and, due to the statewide concern with utility infrastructure projects such as MAPP and PATH, it is likely that related or similar bills will be introduced next year.

In the meantime, the VPC and others have asked BGE to work cooperatively with them to evaluate the possibility of expanding at the existing Northwest Substation or finding a more suitable alternative site. BGE has been responsive to requests for discussion and meetings; however, they plan to go forward with a request for a special exception sometime in May for the Emory Grove substation on Kemp Road.

At its December meeting, the VPC board voted to oppose the location of the regional substation within the Piney Run Rural Legacy Area and has made this a special project. Since BGE plans to move forward with approval requests for the Kemp Road project while also pursing possible alternatives, VPC must gear up for the hearings. Contributions are need for expert and legal fees. Those wishing to make a contribution should send a check to the VPC and write “BGE Substation” in the check memo line.

VPC has hired an electrical engineer with experience in these kind of projects. He will help us evaluate the need for the proposed upgrades as well as any available options at our disposal. Our goal is to find the right combination of actions that will result in the needed reliability of our electric system, be consistent with the goals of the county master plan, and support the public and private investments in and committments to land preservation. In addition to the expert, we must also must formally engage an attorney to represent us at the upcoming hearings.

In addition to the immediate threats to specific parcels and communities, there is a growing and overarching concern about the policy direction for energy sources, generation, and distribution. Many want to end the nation’s reliance on coal  and move to renewable sources of cleaner energy with generation closer to home. As it is, we are being called upon to make major investments for upgrades to the existing grid to facilitate the transmission of power from traditional sources to far-away localities.

Utilities are required to meet reliability standards set by the industry regulators. This requires them to have redundancy in the system, so that if a line goes down or develops some kind of problem, they have a way to bypass the problem until it can be fixed. To make the existing system more efficient and reliable, expanded corridors with new, higher voltage lines are needed, as well as redundant loops so that long-distance power can be re-routed if necessary. With one giant grid utilizing distant power generation facilities, there are many contingencies to anticipate and many assumptions to be made in order to identify potential reliability concerns.

It is  not clear how accurate the demand forecasts are that led to the concerns about reliability and the need for substantial upgrades to various parts of the system, including the projected need for the Emory Grove substation. There have been recent challenges to forecasts made by PJM, the entity responsible for reliability planning in the mid-Atlantic region. A new 275-mile long transmission line called the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) was planned for a corridor stretching from Putnam County, West Virginia to Frederick County, Maryland. However, that project was recently suspended due to PJM’s latest analyses that showed the projected reliability violations were no longer anticipated within the initial timeframe. Project proposals associated with PATH will be withdrawn. PJM is expected to re-evaluate its forecasts associated with the proposed Emory Grove Substation in the near future. It is possible that the potential violations may not be eminent as initially determined by PJM.

The VPC is examining all avenues including the need for the substation, possible technological solutions, and alternatives to the site in the Piney Run Rural Legacy Area. Your contributions will help us explore the possible solutions.