21-mile utility poll plan in Hartland Township goes to Public Service Commission

HARTLAND TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN - Officials and homeowners will have to wait awhile longer to see if a plan to install 100-foot-tall power poles in their neighborhoods will be approved.

An administrative law judge recommended approval of the plan - with some conditions - to have ITC Transmission erect a 21-mile power line through Hartland and two other Livingston townships.

The plan now goes before the Michigan Public Service Commission, which could delay the project for months.

"I think the commission has been handed a number of questions and concerns," said attorney Mike Watza, who represents homeowners living along Pleasant Valley Road in Hartland Township where the overhead lines jog north before running along M-59.

Homeowners are worried about declining property values; Hartland Township challenged the plan because its local ordinance requires all new utilities to be buried if existing poles cannot service them.

ITC Transmission claims burying the lines will add $29 million to the cost of the project, about $2,000 for each of the township's 15,000 residents.

Hartland Township officials and residents have been waiting for Administrative Law Judge Mark Eyster's recommendation since a public hearing last summer.

Numerous legal briefs were filed, with more expected before the matter reaches the PSC.

Eyster's recommendation suggested the PSC make a conditional approval based upon a comprehensive study, paid for by ITC and using "appropriately qualified consultants."

In addition, he suggested coordinating the power line project with the future widening of M-59, east of Michigan, a project that has no start date.

"ITC is pleased with the proposal recommendation and looks forward to the commission's final decision so that this critically necessary project can move forward," ITC spokeswoman Lisa Aragon said recently.

She declined to offer an opinion as to whether additional study is needed, or if the Legislature needs to adopt a policy to require the utility lines be buried.

Eyster's 85-page opinion states there is a lack of state policy on underground utilities or when utilities must be buried. Watza said that issue is one the Legislature or the governor needs to address.

The PSC is expected to have a decision in place one year from the date of application, which was filed by ITC on June 1, Aragon said.

"The project is critically necessary for the peak summer season when there's the most demand on the system so that there's the least potential risk for outages. We will continue to operate at our best, although this region suffers from congestion," she said.

The judge suggested that a study include network needs for ITC and DTE Energy and whether upgrades to the distribution network needs the upgrade, rather than the transmission line.

In addition, Eyster requested an assessment of costs on the electrical distribution alternatives and what entities, such as GM, should be responsible for paying those costs and the effect that will have on rate increases for consumers.

"For instance, ITC's proposal would give FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) authority to raise rates to Michigan consumers an estimated $3 million annually," Eyster wrote.


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