SMECO is your electric cooperative, and we are committed to working with you to ensure this necessary improvement project is done right.
We have created this frequently asked questions section to list and answer some of the questions we heard during dozens of meetings with elected officials, environmental and business leaders, and community groups over the past four years:
Q: Why does SMECO need to upgrade the existing line?
A: We need to upgrade our transmission system now so it can meet rising demand and remain reliable for our customers into the future. Southern Maryland’s population and electricity demand have grown exponentially over the past 30 years and increased demand is pushing the current system to its limit.
Q: Southern Calvert County is still mainly rural, and I don’t see the kind of development the rest of the county has experienced. Is this really necessary?
A: Calvert County has been among the fastest growing counties in Maryland and the United States. More residents means more businesses, schools, shopping centers, sports fields, and first responders. Over the next 10 years, energy use in Calvert County will reach over one million megawatt-hours (MWh).
This new line will benefit our entire four-county service area, particularly in Calvert where we know the need exists. It’s time to improve our electric system now, so it remains reliable in the future.
Q: What exactly does a line upgrade mean?
A: Upgrading our line means we will replace existing poles and lines with newer equipment. This upgrade will increase the capacity of our existing line from 69 kilovolts (kV) to 230 kV to create a continuous loop of electricity around our service area. A loop provides more flexibility to move power around and allows us to feed electricity from either direction, so an outage in one spot doesn’t necessarily affect service to people further down the line.
The new poles will be larger than the current poles, but larger poles mean fewer poles. Once completed, the new line will feature roughly half as many poles as our current line.
back to top
Q: Why is SMECO discussing the Reliability Project now?
A: We initially announced the project in 2008, held a series of open house meetings to gather feedback, and have included updates in our customer newsletter since then. We have remained in regular contact with customer-members who live near the line route, but wanted to reach out to the community again before starting construction. We are committed to working in partnership with you to ensure this improvement project is done right and are keeping you informed.
Q: Who approves this type of utility project?
A: SMECO filed for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) with the Maryland Public Service Commission, the regulatory body that oversees electric utilities. The CPCN was approved in September 2009 after a rigorous review.
Q: When will construction start? How long do you expect the project to take until it is completed?
A: Construction on the Reliability Project will begin in Spring 2012, will occur in phases, and is planned to be completed by 2016.
Q: How is SMECO going to make sure my power stays on while you are replacing the old line? Won’t you have to take it out of service during construction?
A: SMECO will use the safest and most modern techniques during construction to make sure there is little to no impact to the area during construction. At no point will the existing line be taken out of service.
back to top
Q: How much will this project cost?
A: We expect the total cost of this project to be around $110 million. The total cost includes all estimated construction, permitting, right-of-way acquisition costs, and contingency fees. The project will be financed over 30 years so there will be a minimal effect on rates.
Q: How is SMECO going to pay for this project?
A: The cost of the upgraded power line will be rolled into our annual construction budget and will be financed over 30 years. It will add $20 million per year for five years to our $50 million annual construction budget.
Q: Won’t this just make my electric bill even more expensive?
A: The Reliability Project will have a minimal effect on rates – an estimated four percent increase over the project’s lifetime.
back to top
Q: Is this another example of a utility company building a massive power line through a rural area so they can make a profit by selling electricity to other states?
A: No – this project will bring power to our community, not through our community. Because SMECO is a cooperative, all of our profits go right back into our system, and this project will provide continuous, reliable electric service to our customers in Southern Maryland, no one else. This project will benefit the people who live and work here in Southern Maryland.
Q: Why is SMECO building this line through existing communities? Why not just build this project across vacant farmland?
A: The Southern Maryland Reliability Project will largely follow the same route as our existing line. Although we considered alternate routes, new rights-of-way are not necessary. Using existing rights-of-way means greatly minimizes environmental, residential, and other public impacts.
This approach will create the least possible impact upon the area. Building a new line across vacant farmland would increase the cost of the project and disturb the environment.
Q: Can SMECO build the line along the existing right-of-way or will you have to acquire new land?
A: This project will largely follow the same route as the existing power line and will use SMECO’s existing right-of-way.
back to top
Q: How did SMECO get public input on this project? How do you plan to notify people who live along the route?
A: SMECO held several open house meeting across the community in 2008, and since then we have held dozens of meetings with elected officials, environmental and business leaders, and community groups.
Now that construction is starting, we will hold several open house meetings and community meetings to make sure everyone has complete information about the Reliability Project.
This project will benefit Calvert County and our entire four-county service area, and we are excited to discuss it with our neighbors. We have provided complete information about each step of this project every step of the way, and we will continue to make every effort to communicate with people who live along the route and within the community.
Q: How have public comments been incorporated into the decision-making process?
A: Public comments about this project were incorporated into our CPCN application to the Maryland PSC in 2008 and influenced final decisions about the project.
Q: Has SMECO already spoken to the Calvert County Board of Commissioners about this project? How about our State Delegates and Senators?
A: SMECO has regularly met with county and state-level government representatives to discuss this and other projects.
back to top
Q: Did SMECO conduct an environmental study on this project before it started?
A: An environmental study was included in our CPCN application to the Maryland PSC, and the report has been made public.
Q: Don’t projects like this often lead to significant loss of habitat along the line route?
A: This route was chosen because it will use the existing rights-of-way and will create the least possible impact upon the area. We have retained industry-leading environmental and engineering consultants to cover every base and incorporate best practices. Working with them and local and state environmental groups, we have taken every possible step to reduce the environmental impact of this project.
This project will maintain maximum wooded areas along the route and will not impact any endangered species, tree trimming and brush clearing in the existing rights-of-way will be minimized and contained within the existing boundaries., and any environmental impact will be minimized whenever possible with protective measures and fully restored after construction is completed.
Q: Will the proposed line cross the Patuxent River at any point? If so, what kind of river crossing will be used? How will this affect the ecology of the river and Chesapeake Bay?
A: The line will cross the Patuxent River between Solomons Island and Town Creek. The two-mile river crossing will be installed under the river to protect oyster beds and underwater ecosystems. Burying the cable beneath the riverbed using state-of-the art technology means the river crossing will have little or no impact on the river.
Q: How loud will new pole construction be? Will SMECO work at night or over the weekends?
A: The construction crews will work during daylight hours on weekdays, and noise will be minimal.
Q: After the new line is energized, will I be able to hear it from my home?
A: Overhead electrical transmission line noises can occasionally include crackling or humming sounds. These noises can vary depending on factors such as electrical capacity and line load, outdoor temperatures, and moisture levels in the air. Although you may be able to hear it at certain times and under certain conditions, line noise is usually only heard within the transmission line right-of-way.
back to top
Q: I’ve read that power lines create electro-magnetic fields (EMF) and cause cancer. Is this true?
A: Safety is central to our business — we offer free EMF level checks to any customer who wants one. This line will not increase EMF levels. In fact, homeowners are exposed to more EMF from their TV than they are by the power line on their street.
Q: What will SMECO do if science proves a link between EMF and cancer in the future?
A: As a part of this community, SMECO will take whatever action is necessary to reduce EMF to an acceptable level if they are proven to have adverse health effects in the future.
Q: Will SMECO pay to study the EMF levels at my home?
A: SMECO provides this service free of charge to any interested customer. For more information, contact SMECO directly.
back to top