Hundreds jam power line hearing

PENNSYLVANIA - It was hard to miss the 190-foot-tall crane.

It was parked just outside the door of Top of the World in Saw Creek Estates, where the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission held public hearings on a proposed transmission line through the development.

The crane was there to approximate the look of the 190-foot transmission towers proposed by PPL Electric Utilities. The towers would carry 730-kilovolts of electricity from the Berwick power plant through Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wayne, Pike and Monroe counties and on to a link-up in Roseland, N.J.

PPL says the project would improve reliability of the power grid, but residents along the line are fighting the proposal. Especially in Saw Creek, where PPL runs a smaller line already.

More than 300 people packed the 1 p.m. PUC hearing. Many, including a newborn baby, wore "Stop the Power Lines" buttons.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, was the first to testify. She said the health effects of high electromagnetic fields are still debated, and property values would suffer from the lines.

"The company must find an alternative route out of fairness to the public," Baker said. The audience erupted in applause after Baker and a few other like-minded speakers.

A few speakers questioned why more electric power should be generated when demand is down, the cost of coal is on the rise, and alternative energies such as wind and solar power would be more environmentally friendly.

"PJM still believes the (need) is going to increase. The line is being built for the future," said Paul Wirth, PPL spokesperson.

PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia — an area stretching from Illinois to Pennsylvania south to North Carolina and Tennessee. They run the power grid.

With AIG bonuses fresh in the news, some speakers likened PPL to the companies that got government bailouts.

"This has nothing to do with need and everything to do with corporate greed," Saw Creek Estates Community Association President Peter Derrenbacher said.

Wirth disagreed with the greed angle.

"I don't get the connection. PPL did not propose to build the line, PJM did," Wirth said.

He also disagreed with the many speakers who said home values would drop if plan is approved. A Realtor testified that home buyers are already shunning Saw Creek because of the proposal and claimed home values could drop by 50 percent after the line is put in.

"I think the alarmist Web site and the alarmist newspaper ads are keeping people away at this time," Wirth said.

In his testimony, Lehman Township Supervisor Paul Menditto told the PUC, "One does not have to be a real estate expert to understand what will happen to property values. In these hard economic times, please don't let this happen."

Menditto also said the jobs PPL is promising through this project are temporary and will not likely go to local people.

It is worth noting that Saw Creek is served by Met Ed, not PPL. "Electric companies should be required to demonstrate a meaningful benefit to the area. The area shouild not have to pay more in cost than received in benifit just so the grid can be maintained somewhere else," testified Pike County Commissioner Harry Forbes.

Lehman Township Supervisor John Sivick echoed that. "The demand for electricity has gone down. It is not needed. PPL is not concerned about the cost because they will pass the cost on to the 13 states," Sivick said.

At the second hearing of the day, state Rep. John Siptroth, D-189, read a statement that was interrupted by applause several times. Siptroth questioned how thoroughly the other proposed routes were considered and also warned of setting an alarming precedent, smoothing the way for more extremely high-voltage lines across the nation.

"I anticipate that this is not the last time that a public hearing will be taking place in eastern Pennsylvania to review an application for a high-voltage transmission line passing through our communities to serve consumers in New York and New Jersey," Siptroth said in a statement released to the Pocono Record.

"If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Congress get its way, there may be many more projects like this, but probably fewer hearings as a result of their increased authority and powers of eminent domain.

"I note with alarm that the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association have begun to call for "Green Power Superhighways" with as many as six parallel lines of towers linking energy generators to the west of us with energy consumers to the east of us. I would like to see the PUC taking a leading role in advocating for the placement of extremely high-voltage transmission lines underground starting with the Susquehanna-Roseland project being commented on today," Siptroth said.

"I believe that Pennsylvania should take the lead on this technology, and because Pennsylvania is likely to be impacted by many future proposals like PPL's, it is in the best interest of our state," he said.


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