LANSING – Appeals of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s approval of ITCTransmission’s Thumb Loop route recently were filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“I’m not sure what affect that has, but unless there’s activity that tells us to stop, we’re going to continue moving forward and having conversations with our land agents, and the land agents then will contact landowners,” said Francie Brown, state government affairs director for ITCTransmission, during last Friday’s MiGreen Summit in Lansing. Brown said the land agents will work with individual landowners about why and how electrical poles will be located on their property.
On Feb. 25, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved ITC’s Thumb Loop project, which consists of approximately 140 miles of double-circuit 345,000 volt (345 kV) lines and four new substations. The Thumb Loop route runs in Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties.
The Thumb Loop project will serve as the “backbone” of a system designed to meet the identified minimum and maximum wind energy potential of the Thumb region.
To facilitate wind developments, The Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act (PA 295) of 2008 created a Wind Energy Resource Zone board to identify regions in the state with the highest wind potential. The board identified the Thumb region as having the highest potential, and it was declared the state’s primary wind resource zone.
Because the area’s electrical grid is near maximum capacity, there was a need for an upgrade. PA 295 requires the Michigan Public Service Commission to grant an expedited siting certificate to facilitate such an upgrade, providing a number of requirements are met, including one stating the proposed transmission line has the capacity to handle the wind potential of the wind energy resource zone.
The Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board stated the Thumb region has an estimated wind production capability between 2,367 and 4,236 megawatts.
The application the commission approved Feb. 25 was for a 5,000 megawatt transmission line, which meets both the minimum and maximum wind potential generation in the Thumb.
Appeals claim ITC’s line is too large
Last week, the Michigan Public Power Agency (MPPA) and the Michigan Municipal Electric Association (MMEA) filed a motion for stay pending appeal, and the Association of Business Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE) filed a motion for stay and motion for immediate consideration regarding the commission’s Feb. 25 approval of the Thumb Loop route, according to E-docket information on the commission’s website.
The MMPA and MMEA are appealing the commission’s order on the basis that the order did not apply the mandatory transmission siting process required by the Electrical Transmission Line Certification Act of 1995 (PA 30). Instead, it applied the process set forth in PA 295 (which requires the expedited siting process for transmission upgrades needed to facilitate wind development in the state’s designated primary wind energy resource zone).
The MMPA and MMEA appeal argues the siting process in PA 30 is more stringent than PA 295, and it calls into question the legality of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s order.
“MPPA and MMEA are, therefore, fearful that ITC – with order in hand – will now begin to spend considerable sums on the planning and construction of a grossly oversized transmission line – the legality of which is doubtful,” states the motion for stay pending appeal, which was filed to the Michigan Public Service Commission March 17.
The stay pending appeal asks the commission to withhold its ruling authorizing ITC to begin construction of its 5,000 megawatt proposed transmission line until the Michigan Court of Appeals hears the matter.
ABATE’s position for appealing the commission’s ruling is that ITC is overbuilding, because a 345 kV double-circuit is not necessary to meet the capacity for power generated in the Thumb.
During hearings held prior to the commission’s Feb. 25 order, ABATE argued that initially, ITC only should be allowed to construct a single-circuit, double-circuit capable line. Then, if necessary, ITC should add a second circuit at a later date.
ABATE noted ITC’s $510 million proposed double-circuit line meets the estimated maximum potential of wind generation in the Thumb, when instead, the transmission line should be built to meet the minimum potential. Using a single-circuit, double-circuit capable line would allow ITC to initially meet the minimum wind potential, and have the ability to expand it if more capacity is needed beyond the minimum potential.
Meeting the minimum wind potential would meet the RPS needs of electric providers in this state and satisfy PA 295 (which requires utilities generate 10 percent of their power from renewable resources), ABATE argued.
ABATE argued ITC failed to establish there is economic justification to build a line exceeding the estimated minimum wind potential in the Thumb. The group claims using a single-circuit, double-circuit capable line would cost at least $78 million less than ITC’s proposed double-circuit line.
The project – whether it’s a single-circuit, double-circuit capable line or the double-circuit line – will be paid by ratepayers in the 13 states in the Midwest ISO footprint. The Midwest ISO is the power grid operator for much of the U.S. Midwest.
During previous Michigan Public Service Commission hearings, testimony from witnesses on behalf of ITC contended ABATE’s approach essentially would double ITC’s permitting activities because the initial construction of the first circuit, as well as the subsequent construction of the second circuit, likely would require duplicate wetlands permits, soil erosion permits, listed species clearances, etc.
However, testimony from ABATE’s witness maintained the permitting requirements for the addition of the second circuit at a later time would be dramatically less than for a new transmission line.
But ITC’s testimony indicated “a significant amount of time in line construction is spent preparing and accessing rights-of-way. Activities such as matting the right-of-way, installing temporary drives, and setting up equipment for work at each tower location would need to be repeated,” according to the commission’s Feb. 25 order.
ITC’s testimony also stressed farmers would be adversely affected because of duplicative interruption and disturbance to farming activities.
The MPPA and MMEA also took issue to the size of the Thumb Loop project during hearings the Michigan Public Service Commission held prior to its approval of the route. The groups argued ITC failed to introduce any evidence to support a conclusion that Michigan will ever need 5,000 megawatts of wind-related transmission capacity in the Thumb region.
“MPPA and MMEA urged the commission not to burden their ratepayers with higher rates associated with the transmission line without requiring ITC to demonstrate that the proposed line is needed and cost-efficient,” states MMPA and MMEA’s position, as detailed in the commission’s Feb. 25 order. “According to MPPA and MMEA, it is mere speculation that sufficient wind energy will be developed in the Thumb Region to justify construction of such an expensive transmission line. Finally, MPPA and MMEA contend that the proposed transmission line represents an unreasonable threat to the public convenience, health and safety. In making this argument, MPPA and MMEA stress that the proposed transmission line is wasteful because it is too expensive and exceeds the amount of transmission line capacity needed to meet the RPS standards of Michigan’s utilities.”
Feb. 25 ruling
In its Feb. 25 order, the Michigan Public Service Commission rejected the interpretations offered by ABATE, and the MPPA and MMEA.
The commission ruled in favor of the double-circuit line because in the event a single-circuit, double-circuit capable line initially was installed, but later had to be expanded for additional capacity in the future, it would be wasteful and result in duplicative efforts and costs.
“It is axiomatic that a planned transmission line should not be built to a size that may become overloaded,” the ruling states.
The ruling notes because the current transmission system in the Thumb is at or near capacity at this time, failure to add additional transmission capacity will frustrate the Legislature’s direction for the commission to facilitate the development of wind power in this state.
Though the Michigan Public Service Commission granted ITC’s requested primary Thumb Loop route, the commission did rule that, in light of the substantial costs involved in the project, ITC will be required to give the commission any public construction status report it is required by law to file with any local, state or federal agency. The reports will be filed on the commission’s E-docket, which can be viewed by the public online at http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile. The case number is 16200.
March 31 deadline to file answers the commission
While the appeals of the commission’s decision will be heard by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Commission will decide whether to grant the motions for stay submitted by ABATE and the MMEA and MPPA.
Answers to both appeals have to be filed no later than March 31, 2011, according to notices Michigan Public Service Commission Executive Secretary Mary Jo Kunkle filed on the Michigan Public Service Commission’s E-docket. After the deadline to file answers, the commission will rule what relief, if any, should be granted.
Michigan Public Service Commission Spokeswoman Judy Palnau said it’s unknown how long it will take the commission to make its ruling after the deadline to file responses has passed.
“We don’t have a time – there is no time deadline associated with it. It could happen at a regular commission meeting or it could happen at a (special) meeting,” Palnau said. “ … All I can say is, ‘after March 31.’”
During last week’s MiGreen Summit in Lansing, Brown said ITC’s approved 5,000 megawatt transmission line really plays two roles. First, it meets current and future anticipated needs of wind developers in the Thumb, and second, it bolsters the existing system.
“Transmission facilities in the Thumb are constrained to the point that (they) can’t really add anything else unless (you) deal with the existing transmission system,” she said.
In regard to the appeals, Brown said ITC disagrees that PA 30 applies when it comes to siting. Nor does ITC agree the double circuit 345 kV line is overbuilt and isn’t supposed to meet the area’s estimated maximum wind potential.
“The (Wind Energy Resource Zone) language was succinct and comprehensive,” she said.
When it comes to building a new transmission line, ITCTransmission Spokeswoman Louise Beller said it’s not uncommon for disappointed litigants to appeal regulatory commission approval.
“It is pretty commonplace for litigants to exercise their right for the appeal process,” she said.
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