1/01/2008

Farmland Could Be in the Path of New Electric Wires

By Chris Torres

Opponents of a controversial newly established national electric corridor say farmers may see the most impact if the plan is allowed to move forward.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently approved a plan that places most of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York; parts of Ohio and Virginia; and the entire states of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey in a newly designated Mid-Atlantic National Corridor, which would give electric companies the right to use eminent domain to build new electric power lines and transmission facilities anywhere in those areas to provide more power to the congested East Coast.

The plan, which was made effective on Oct. 5, gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the right to grant construction permits to developers if they can’t get state approval or if a state withholds approval of a construction permit for more than one year.

A developer would still have to negotiate right-of-ways with landowners in order to start construction. But they would be given the right to use eminent domain powers to get them.

The plan was developed in accordance with the 2005 U.S. Energy Act.

Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, recently wrote a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman expressing concern over the energy department’s designation of the corridor, iting fear over the fact farmers could lose land in the event brand new electric transmission lines are built.

The corridor encompasses 52 of Pennsylvania’s 64 counties, including some of the most productive agricultural counties in the state.

Shaffer is not alone. Several politicians have expressed their concerns over the plan and a Pennsylvania state representative has even started a petition on his Website to stop it.

The outpouring of opposition has led the DOE to reconsider holding additional hearings on the proposal, according to Michael Smith, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

He said the DOE earlier this month requested additional time to review letters they have gotten on the issue and to possibly schedule new hearings.

Julie Ruggiero, DOE spokesperson, said Tuesday the department is taking additional time to thoroughly evaluate the basis of all parties’ requests for a rehearing but that no rehearing had been scheduled as of yet.

She said the department designated the corridor in accordance with that they were tasked to do as part of the 2005 Energy Act. She added the department allowed for a 60-day public comment period and held seven public meetings on the issue before making their decision.

Smith, speaking on behalf of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, said Rendell is outraged by the proposal, stating it is an abuse of federal authority and that it disregards state’s rights.

“We felt they (DOE) overstepped their bounds on this,” Smith said.

Mark O’Neill, spokesperson for PFB, said the concern doesn’t necessarily lie around the fact eminent domain may be used. He said the bureau is worried farmers will not be able to participate in negotiations on where power lines will be placed and that it will force farmers to change their farming practices because of it. Not to mention, it could affect farmers financially if they are forced to sell their land at prices dictated to them.

“This is an issue that has been in our sight at the national level. Our biggest concern is how they are going about doing this,” O’Neill said. “The potential is they are going to put a lot of good farmland out of production because of this.”

Smith said the plan may also affect land values, which he said could drop because of power lines located in residential areas.

“Looking out a back window and seeing a high tension power line isn’t attractive to potential buyers,” he said.


Lancaster Farming, Ephrata PA: http://www.lancasterfarming.com