Citizens Request Impartial Study Of Utility Expansion

OCEAN CITY – During a public hearing at City Hall this week, residents voiced the need for the city to hire an independent consultant to study the impact an expansion to a utility substation in north Ocean City.

Last August the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing regarding Delmarva Power and Light’s (DP&L) Conditional Use request to expand the existing substation located on Sinepuxent and Derrickson avenues on 138th Street in the community of Caine Woods.

A number of the area’s residents were present for the hearing and voiced numerous concerns over the project. However, the commission forwarded a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council for approval. A couple of weeks later, the council denied DP&L’s request because it felt the community’s concerns had not been fully addressed.

On Tuesday night, DP&L returned to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a second public hearing to address a list of concerns, such as aesthetics, magnetic field exposure, sound, property valuation, alternative locations and undergrounding of wires and equipment.

DP&L Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith explained in order to enhance electric service reliability and maintain a stronger and more consistent flow of energy in the Ocean City area DP&L would have to install a Static Var Compensator (SVC)

The SVC is similar to a booster pump that helps keep electrical pressure (voltage) constant across the DP&L system. The SVC will allow for the distribution of electricity where and when it is needed. While the result will be increased electric service reliability for customers in eastern Worcester and Sussex counties, this $26 million project will mainly benefit customers in Ocean City.

The SVC design has total perimeter footage of 820 square feet. A SVC control room will be built on the northern side of the property.

The project includes a new 15-foot wall setback 10 feet from the property line to replace the current wire fencing. Irrigated vegetation will be planted surrounding the substation and will include maple, birch, red cedar, loblolly pine, winterberry, bayberry, arrowood, big bluestem and switch grass.

DP&L had William H. Bailey, Ph.D., present research that has been currently conducted on the magnetic fields at the substation. Bailey explained that electric and magnetic fields (EMF) are produced by natural and man-made sources, such as appliances, electrical wiring, nearby distribution and transmission systems, and current flowing on building grounding systems and water pipes. The strength of EMF diminishes as you move away from the source. Electric fields are shielded by objects such as trees, shrubs or walls but magnetic fields are not.

According to research conducted from Nov. 1, 2011 to Oct. 31, 2012, the daily average current power flow at the 138th Street substation is 33.4 MW. The day it was measured it was 76.6 MW, and the peak measurement was 110 MW.

In July, DP&L conducted readings of EMF in the areas surrounding the substation. The north side of the substation’s property was measured to have 2.1 MG of magnetic field, the east side, 1.9 MG, the south side 6.8 MG, and the west side 1.7 MG.

The effect of the SVC addition to the substation on modeled magnetic fields during average loading in residential areas, or to the north and west of the substation, will have a 1 MG increase. Commercial areas, or to the east and south of the substation, will have a 10 to 15 MG increase. During peak loading times, all areas will have less than 2 MG change.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) set exposure to magnetic field guidelines in 2010 at 10,000 MG for occupational purposes and 2,000 MG for the general public.

“As you can see the MG around the substation are well, well below these internationally accepted guidelines,” Bailey said.

In summary Bailey said magnetic fields from the substation and associated transmission/distribution lines fall in the range of exposures encountered in daily activities.

Another issue addressed was sound. Acceptable noise levels in Ocean City are 55 decibels (dBA) at night and 65 dBA during the day. The results of the study show that levels from the expanded substation in the surrounding areas are calculated to be 42 dBA or less. Across the streets to the north and west at the residential properties the sound levels are calculated to be 40 dBA or less.

Attorney Joseph Harrison presented his findings after researching if there would be an impact to the property values adjacent to the substation.

According to the Worcester County Office of the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, there is no concrete evidence through sales data to suggest a reduction in the land rate for parcels in close proximity to the 138th Street substation.

Harrison explained land rates will vary depending upon several factors. such as location or the size of a lot in a particular area. and in speaking with a residential assessor in the north Ocean City area, Harrison asked her if the assessments take into account proximity of property to the substation.

“Her response was, the sales are what drive what the changes are going to be, and she has reviewed the sales and she didn’t see any difference whether it was a block away, three blocks away, or adjacent to it. Therefore the land rates remain the same,” he said.

Based on requirements outlined by regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection, the SVC needs to be located in northern Ocean City and connected to the Delmarva Power transmission system. The two substations located in north Ocean City are 85th and 138th streets.

DP&L studied creating a new electric substation on a one-acre lot on 100th Street but it would have to interconnect with the substation at 85th Street, which would necessitate a 15-block underground cable installation along Coastal Highway. To avoid such a disruption, DPL decided to pursue the expansion at 138th Street where a utility footprint already exists.

The last issue addressed was the option of undergrounding wires and equipment, which DPL avoids for several reasons. The first being, underground transmission lines are often difficult to locate and repair, which would mean lengthier power outages.

Also, terminal structures would need to be located outside the substation, offsetting aesthetic benefits from a wall and shrubbery and the 138th Street substation does not have the space required for such terminal structures, which are larger than normal transmission poles.

Bruce Davis, resident of 138th Street, asserted that everything presented by DP&L was biased opinion.

“It might be nice to hear some professionals that would tell us about the dangers of the EMF, some unbiased professionals,” he said.

Davis added that he would be fine with the look of the current facility if it was maintained rather than the proposed wall and landscaping.

“I don’t know what the future brings but I still feel like I live in a small neighborhood with a small transformer facility surrounded by houses and this expansion still makes me feel like I live in an industrial complex, and I just say no expansion at this location,” he said.

Resident Richard Hansen agreed that an independent consultant should be hired to study the EMF exposure.

“We really need the city to contract with someone to take readings of the facility so we can at least have a middle ground,” he said. “They may come out exactly the same, however in the interest of our safety living near this, it could come out different.”

Former Ocean City Councilman Vincent Gisriel Jr. presented the commission with research and statistics based on property sales in the immediate area of the substation on 138th Street

Commission member Peck Miller interjected that the proposed aesthetics, the wall and landscaping, has to be better than the current look of the substation and could have the chance to increase property values.

“I respect that opinion as far as the aesthetic issue but I am looking at property value and the clear indication is that property values are diminished in that immediate area,” Gisriel said, adding his opinion to take a more serious look at 100th Street.

Gisriel agreed with his neighbors in having the city hire a firm conduct an independent study on the EMF exposure the proposed substation will create.

“When this goes forward to the Mayor and City Council for approval, and I hope you take some time to deliberate all of the evidence, that be a condition there at least be an independent study done that either supports DPL or negates it,” Gisriel said.

A work session will be scheduled to discuss the matter in the future.