If You Build it, They Will Come

If You Build it, They Will Come
by Karen Hosler

A mostly tidy little standoff the other night over expanding Constellation Energy's nuclear power complex at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, was interrupted with the heretical suggestion that the region doesn't need all that new power from any source-- or the expanded ability to deliver it.
This suggestion comes despite rapid growth in the Mid-Atlantic that has choked electricity transmission lines and invoked predictions of rolling brown-outs within the next several years.
"I don't care if it's nuclear, coal, solar, wind-powered or bio-fueled" energy, Bruce Gordon, a long-time utility engineer from Easton, told the Maryland Public Service Commission. If electricity from the new plant is fed into the proposed Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, then more folks are likely to locate along the route because they can plug in. And that's what he fears.
The big new power transmission line is proposed to run 230 miles from Possum Point power plant in Virginia to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant on the shores of the bay, then under the Chesapeake Bay and up the Delmarva Peninsula to Indian River, Delaware.
Along its way, the new line will tie in existing fossil-fuel power plants. The initial proposal terminated the line at the Salem nuclear power plant in New Jersey, and this may yet evolve. Pepco Holdings, Inc. (PHI), the company planning to build the line, said MAPP, as the line's been dubbed, will also open the path for connections to new, sustainable energy sources such as mid-western and western wind farms and solar plants and wind farms off the Atlantic coast.
The proposed transmission line "could bring enough new power to the region to light up an additional 800,000 to 2 million homes" according to the PHI's website. And that is exactly Gordon's concern.
Would, over time, the new growth fueled by the new energy choke the new lines? That's the pattern.
Gordon predicted MAPP would forever alter the rural nature of Delmarva, much in the same manner that a new Bay span to Kent County would violate the isolation that preserves Chestertown, Maryland's charm. He could well be right.
Destroying the culture of the shore is too big a price to pay for the new jobs building the new nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs or the new transmission lines, Gordon argued. Folks in Calvert County, where construction of a third nuclear reactor also promises handsome tax revenue, may disagree.
The shame of it is there's no place in the regulatory review process for power plants or transmission lines where such concerns are balanced. No "smart growth" considerations are weighed. There is no state master plan; no master plan for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Energy projects are considered on a case-by-case basis related to anticipated demand, with no thought of trying to manage demand.
Thus, at a time when frustration with bay pollution is so high that Marylanders are calling on the federal government to impose growth controls, no one in authority is looking at the role that energy plays in encouraging development.
Paula Carmody, Peoples Counsel to the Public Service Commission opposes the financial deal between Constellation Energy and the big French utility, EDF, that would finance the new nuclear plant. She says it is a bad bargain for rate-payers. They get no specific new benefits, and face potential harm if the financial relationship between the two companies sours.
Further, she contends careful energy planning would better serve her rate-payer clients, and is urging the Maryland General Assembly to give state agencies the authority to take the longer view in reviewing new energy projects.
That won't happen anytime soon.
The final go or no-go signal on building the new Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor is a business decision that will be made by Constellation and EDF in the context of the moment. The decision to approve the MAPP is currently under review in Maryland and will also need approval from federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must consider the transmission line's impact on the bay and wetlands.
No matter the outcome of these decisions, Maryland, and the region, should quickly get about the business of planning what it wants to look like 20, 30 or 50 years from today. It's not quite too late.

Karen Hosler, former editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun, is a reporter and commentator for 88.1 WYPR. Distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.