Transmission Projects Spark Opposition

By Staff June 1, 2006

Electric transmission capacity continues to be a problem in several areas of the United States as summer’s peak-demand period approaches. Though several large-scale projects are getting underway, transmission operators still are fighting for community and regulator approval for new power-line construction in many regions.

Transmission capacity to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will more than double—to 500 MW from the current 220 MW—by 2010, according to developers of the $641 million “Northern Umbrella” plan, undertaken by Waukesha, Wis.-based American Transmission Company (ATC). The plan will boost the ability to carry electricity into the region from Wisconsin and help secure connections to the more than 30 small and large power plants within the network.

Currently under construction, the project has faced significant opposition. The Wisconsin legislature was forced to intervene when local officials in Douglas County refused to allow ATC to build on county property. Legislation was passed ordering the county to allow the transmission company to purchase land for the project at market rates. ATC has identified an additional $3 billion to $4 billion in improvements it says are needed to ensure capacity keeps pace with demand. Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission estimates 2% growth per year.

In April, San Diego Gas & Electric announced the preferred route for its proposed 1,000-MW Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, which would cut through San Diego County’s mountain and desert backcountry. The $1.4 billion project would intersect a state park and several communities and drew immediate criticism from area residents and environmentalists. Company officials say they hope to gain state public utility commission approval to begin construction by 2008 for operation by 2010.

Plans for two recently announced projects in West Virginia have not yet attracted opposition. The efforts would total more than $4 billion and are intended to both boost reliability within the state and add export capacity for electricity generated by coal-fired plants in the region. A 765-kV line is planned by American Electric Power to run 550 miles, from central West Virginia up to New Jersey, via Maryland and Pennsylvania . A second 550-kV, 330-mile line is proposed by Allegheny Energy to begin in northern West Virginia and run down to Frederick County, Md. Developers are hoping both lines would be operational by 2014.