Casey says Department of Energy did not give residents chance to voice opinions

By Steve Ferris, Uniontown Herald Standard

U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey said Wednesday the Department of Energy did not give Pennsylvania residents enough opportunity to voice their opinions about designating most of the state as a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor before it approved the designation. 

Casey, D-Pa., held a conference call with the media after he met with Assistant Secretary of Energy Kevin Kolevar.

We had a candid exchange about what the Department of Energy hasnt done. He said they did everything required by law. Im not convinced, Casey said.

He said he plans to host meetings to give real people the chance to express their opinions on the NIETC.

Im not at all happy with the Department of Energy, Casey said. They might say they followed the law, but one hearing on one part of the state is not nearly enough. The DOE held seven meetings in May and June to gather public input about two corridor proposals, but only one meeting was held in Pennsylvania.

In addition DOE officials met with Gov. Edward Rendell and some state legislators before the corridors were approved, Casey said.

He said holding one public meeting in Pennsylvania might have met the DOEs legal obligations, but having only one meeting was not fair to residents.

I expect the DOE to go beyond the law. Theyve been dismissive. If that continues, were in for a long fight, Casey said.

The DOEs method for designating corridors is flawed if holding one meeting in the state meets its legal requirements, he said.

Casey said he is still waiting for a reply to a letter he and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sent to Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman saying they were disheartened to learn that the NIETC had been approved despite strong opposition from the public and local and state legislators.

Two weeks ago, the DOE announced the designation of two corridors, the Mid-Atlantic NIETC and Southwest Area NIETC. The designation means consumers in both regions are being negatively affected by electrical transmission congestion. Designations, which remain in effect for 12 years, do not mean the DOE advocates or authorizes construction of new electric transmission facilities to alleviate congestion within the corridor, the department said.

In Pennsylvania, 52 of the 67 counties are in the Mid-Atlantic NIETC. The 15 counties not in the corridor are in the northwestern and north central parts of the state. All of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia also are in the corridor.

The NIETC designation is intended to alleviate congestion in critical congestion areas in southeastern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, northeastern areas of Virginia and Maryland and northern sections of the District of Columbia and Delaware, according to the DOE.

The Southwest Area NIETC involves most of southern California and part of southeastern Arizona.

The designations give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to approve new power lines in the corridors under circumstances.

Generally, if a utility company does not receive approval from a state to build a proposed power transmission project in a NIETC within a year, the utility may apply to FERC for a permit and authorization for the project, according to the DOE.

Allegheny Energy applied to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in April for permission to build 37 miles of a 500-kilovolt Trans-Allegheny Interstate Transmission Line, or TrAIL, from a proposed 502 Junction Substation in Mount Morris, Greene County, to a proposed Prexy Substation in North Strabane Township in Washington County.

Allegheny Energy said it intends to seek approval from the PUC despite the NIETC designation.

We have a deep concern about that as well, Casey said about the possibility of the FERC approving the TrAIL project.

I have a real concern about the usurpation of state authority, he said.