EDC Supports Major Power Project

OCEAN CITY – Following the lead of elected bodies in the area, resort business leaders on Wednesday agreed to endorse Delmarva Power’s proposed Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) project, a billion-dollar plus effort to increase the company’s ability to assure stable and affordable electricity for the peninsula.

During the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) bi-monthly meeting on Wednesday, resort business leaders heard a detailed report on Delmarva’s proposed MAPP project, which includes the development of a major electric transmission line from Virginia to Indian River, Del. The high-voltage 500-kilovolt line would extend from Possum Point, Va. underneath the Chesapeake Bay and across the Eastern Shore to its terminus at Indian River.

Currently, the largest transmission line on Delmarva carries 230 kilovolts and lines that size are few and far between on the Eastern Shore. A view of a map showing bulk transmission lines in the eastern half of the United States shows a vast network of 500-kilovolt transmission lines, but the entire Delmarva peninsula is an island of much smaller lines with nothing larger than 230 kilovolts.

Delmarva Power spokesman Jim Smith told EDC members on Wednesday, the proposed MAPP project would transmit safe, reliable and affordable electric service to the entire Eastern Shore including Worcester County and Ocean City. Currently, electric service for the resort area travels on much smaller lines in a north-south direction from the vast PJM grid, but the development of the MAPP transmission line from east to west will allow the lower shore to draw electric power from more reliable, and in some cases greener, sources.

“This is a large-scale transmission project,” Smith told EDC members on Wednesday. “This is extremely important to everybody in this room. Everybody on the peninsula will benefit from this.”

If approved, the project will span an area of 150-170 miles, depending on the final route, and will cost about $1.2 billion. Once the project has cleared the complex federal, state and local approval process, it could be completed by 2014. The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) will hold sway on the final approval, although other agencies such as the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will have the opportunity to weigh in on environmental impacts of the project.

Smith told EDC members the project would improve reliability, reduce costs to consumers and provide for greater access to the growing renewable energy networks sprouting up throughout the region. Perhaps more importantly, a completed MAPP project would help avoid total blackouts and rolling brownouts experienced in the area over the years.

“If anything happens up north, the entire Delmarva Peninsula will go dark,” said Delmarva Power vice president John Allen. “That’s what were trying to avoid with this. The opposition says we’re throwing out idle threats, but that’s simply not true. If we don’t upgrade our transmission system, we’ll literally being plugging in extension cords to reach the Eastern Shore.”

The only real opposition to the project thus far is coming from Dorchester County. Much of the high-voltage transmission line will be attached to existing infrastructure where possible, eliminating the need for new towers and other conduits. However, new towers will need to be constructed on the section of the MAPP line that transverses Dorchester County, where public officials and private citizens have resisted the project because of the perceived environmental and aesthetic impacts.

“There have been some concerns in Dorchester County,” said Allen. “Once it gets to Vienna, it will travel along an easement we’ve had for 50 years. Dorchester has concerns about aesthetics and tourism and we’re working on that, but this is not a Dorchester County project, this is a major regional project.”

Smith explained the cost of running the line underground would come in at around $600 million to $700 million, while running the lines above ground as planned would just about $400 million. In addition to cost considerations, running the line above ground makes more sense in terms of the repairs and maintenance.

“With overhead lines, maintenance is so much easier,” he said. “We can pinpoint the problem because we can see it. Otherwise, a blackout that might last a couple of hours could last for a couple of days.”

One of the main benefits for public and private consumers in Worcester and Ocean City is reliability and lower costs for electric power. Smith said the Eastern Shore consumes more power than it produces, and power customers on the shore pay a substantial amount of congestion charges each year.

“Consumers on the shore paid about $96 million in congestion charges last year, but this will reduce that by about 20 percent in the first year alone,” he said.

Satisfied with the presentation, EDC members voted to send a letter of support to the PSC endorsing the MAPP project. The County Commissioners and the Ocean City Mayor and Council have already sent similar endorsement letters.