New Transmission Lines Require Responsible Planning

transmission lines photo

Image credit: brewbooks/Flickr

"This is less of a NIMBY issue and more of a global warming issue."

Those are the words of Steve Brucker, Conservation Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Bruckner was speaking about the many small but mighty grassroots organizations that have sprung up around the Mid-Atlantic Region as new transmission line projects are proposed.In Maryland, similar groups came together with the state chapter to rally in a Baltimore city park and then march to the front steps of the state Public Service Commission to oppose new two new transmission lines that do not promote clean energy, but rather serve coal.

These two recent proposed transmission line extensions are the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) and the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH)—and local citizens are speaking out for clean energy.

As our country moves toward a better energy policy, local activist groups like the ones in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and beyond are keeping a close watch on the plans that don't deliver what they promise.

Unfortunately, we they are finding many of the recently proposed transmission lines to be geared toward the wrong types of energy projects. When it comes to new transmission lines, we must ask ourselves, "Are they needed, or is the project just an excuse to expand the reach of coal-fired power plants rather than supporting a clean energy project?"

MAPP began at a substation fueled by coal in Virginia (Possum Point) and connected with the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility in Maryland. And the PATH line would starts at the massive John Amos coal-fired power plant in West Virginia, and then travel through Virginia and Maryland.

Wanting to bring more attention to the plans, these grassroots groups came to the state Sierra Club chapters for assistance—groups such as the Dorchester Citizens for Safe Energy, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, the Sugarloaf Land Conservancy, and Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation—and those are just the groups in Maryland alone!

As Virginia's Steve Bruckner pointed out, together we've been fighting back against the big utilities and demonstrating that the problem with transmission line issues is that they're "sort of a stealth CO2 effort."

"This is importing pollution," explained Bruckner. "By running these transmission lines from the coal region into the east coast, it is promoting increases in carbon pollution (so long as they're coming from coal plants)."

The PATH lines alone would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 7.79 million tons per year, which would be the equivalent of adding 25% more cars in Maryland.

While both the MAPP and PATH plans are currently on hold as of now, the battle is not fully over. Another transmission line running through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia is already under construction despite opposition from local grassroots groups and the Sierra Club.

These projects point to the overall importance of future transmission line planning. In many cases improving efficiency and better utilizing existing transmission infrastructure can make new transmission lines unnecessary. Our immediate need is to do everything we can do to increase efficiency and reduce demand. Not only does that reduce emissions, but is also reduces the need for many new transmission lines.

However, we do understand that some new transmission lines will be necessary, and those need robust safeguards.

Here's the gist: We need responsible planning, siting, and building of electrical transmission lines, and transmission reform must be part of a comprehensive clean energy policy. Transmission policy reform must result in new lines that serve clean renewable resources, rather than expanding the carbon-intensive power generation, such as coal.

We cannot blindly go forward with transmission plans without reviewing environmental impacts on the chosen sites, and we must provide the public with ample opportunities for meaningful involvement.

This is why, as one example, we are happy to be taking part in the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC).

EIPC was created by the transmission planning authorities in the Eastern Interconnection (which includes 31 states and much of Canada) and funded by the Department of Energy to research and model possible transmission needs for the next 10-20 years. EIPC's studies will influence future decisions regarding specific generation and transmission projects.

EIPC decisions, including what scenarios to model, will be guided by a Stakeholder Steering Committee (SSC). We must encourage valuable experts from various sectors to serve on the SSC, and secure the modeling of a truly clean energy future throughout the process.

Proper transmission line planning can be an investment in a cleaner future for the U.S. However, we must do it right the first time and ensure that it's supporting clean energy and not continuing our fossil fuel addiction. I'm thankful we have such wonderful grassroots organizers out there bringing attention to these issues!

Check out the Maryland groups rallying against PATH and MAPP in December 2009.

Read more about NIMBY:
Municipal Governments Fostering a YIMBY Culture
Designed for NIMBYs, Palm Tree Hides Solar and Wind Power
Ontario Premier Says No to NIMBY

New Transmission Lines Require Responsible Planning
"This is less of a NIMBY issue and more of a global warming issue."