PPL Corporation, an energy and utility holding company, recently announced a proposal to run high voltage power lines from Western PA into New York, New Jersey and Maryland. The company said they don’t know yet whether the Maryland-bound line would run through York County, but preliminary plans show the line heading through South Central PA.
PPL spokesman Paul Wirth said that the power line will benefit York County by driving down electric prices and generating revenue through temporary jobs and money paid to landowners for easements.
But some have said the power line will have little benefit to York County and will increase pollution and damage the environment.
Here’s what we know so far about the power line:
Ray Dotter, spokesman for PJM Interconnection, the company that manages the high-voltage electricity grid, said that his company will decide by the end of the year whether to approve the power-line project.
He said that PJM’s main job is “to keep the lights on by ensuring enough energy infrastructure,and that they see a need to increase infrastructure in the region to prevent power overloads on existing lines.
“From what I’m hearing and seeing, PPL’s proposal is the largest and most encompassing one among others regarding proposing an upgrade,” Dotter said.
If the project is given a green light, it would cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, would begin in 2017 and would be completed between 2023 and 2025.
Rights of way
Wirth said that one reason PPL can’t say where the power line will go is that they typically plan the lines, as much as possible, to not interfere with the residents and land.
“Power lines are never built as a straight line between two points,” Wirth said. “They’re always sited to have the minimum impact on the environment.”
A 700-kilowatt power line requires enormous transmission towers and clear space. Dotter said that this type of infrastructure requires forest removal to make way for the towers.
Dotter said that typically the routes are planned to avoid population centers and areas of historical importance such as the Gettysburg Battlefield. The route would likely zigzag through farms and forests, he said.
Dotter said that, regardless of the exact route, it will require the company to get right of way with landowners, either through a paid land-use agreement or by pursuing eminent domain.
Either way, this means a payout for anyone whose property is on the proposed route.
“The goal is ultimately to come to a happy medium, where the landowner feels they are satisfied and got a fair deal,” Dotter said.
Eric Naylor, farmland preservation technician at the York County Agricultural Land Preserve Program, said that power lines like the one proposed do not harm agriculture in the long run, but they can pose short-term problems.
“While being put in, they’re going to be going through a lot of farmland that will be affected negatively,” Naylor said.
Mark Kimmel, York County Conservation District manager, said that any reduction to PA’s tree canopy is bad for the environment.
“It’s something that you won’t recover anytime soon,” Kimmel said, adding that the forest removal often makes way for invasive plant species to find their way into the area.
Ron Henry, a Sierra Club member from Baltimore who spent more than seven years on the group’s state executive committee, said that the local ecosystem would be harmed by the power corridor. But he said his group is less concerned with the power lines, and more concerned with where the power comes from.
In this case, PPl spokesman Paul Wirth said the power will come from existing coal plants and natural gas power plants that have not been built yet.
Henry said that the Sierra Club opposes coal plants, and remains skeptical of natural gas because the gas is extracted through a process called “fracking,” which he said puts harmful chemicals into soil and water supplies.
“There’s no doubt that high power grid lines have been a large part of meeting electrical needs,” Henry said. “Sierra Club has no disagreement with that, other than what are the sources of where that’s coming from.”