Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

After examining several alternatives to the Solomons Island portion of the Southern Maryland Reliability Project, representatives from Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative said the most feasible and reasonable option is to stick with its original designs.

In a follow-up meeting to one that occurred in May, SMECO representatives explained the feasibility of alternatives requested by Solomons residents to the portion of the project that travels through the area, during a Wednesday night presentation at the Calvert Marine Museum.

During the meeting hosted by the Solomons Civic Association in May, most of the residents who attended the presentation said they wanted SMECO to look at different alternatives for the project, including putting the power lines underground and not overhead on 140-foot poles.

SMECO President and CEO Austin J. Slater Jr. said Wednesday night the company examined several alternatives and “closed each one with a conclusion.” He also said the company was asked to create better graphical representations of what the poles would look like, so the company took pictures and superimposed the poles on the photographs. Slater told residents they could also view what the poles would look like on a 4-mile section of Sollers Wharf Road where the construction of poles has begun.

Slater said the project has been on the company’s drawing board since the late 1970s, because the company has been trying to close a 230-kilovolt loop that is ideal for SMECO to ensure reliable service to its customers.

“To not complete this project at this point in time … would be negligent on our part,” Slater said. “It’s absolutely vital to meeting your expectations and your requirements.”

When Hurricane Sandy passed through the area just a few weeks ago, Southern Maryland was fortunate to not be hit as hard as other areas, Slater said, but without a “resilient, robust electric system, we could be in a situation where we’re weeks without power, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

Tom Dennison, SMECO government and public affairs manager, said the 28-mile transmission line will create a loop through all three Southern Maryland counties and will connect the southern part of Calvert County to Lexington Park by building a new station at Sollers Wharf and Pardoe roads and constructing an underwater line below the Patuxent River bottom to Hewitt Road.

Dennison said the $110 million project is split into two phases. The first phase, which just started, will connect Sollers Wharf to the Holland Cliff station in Huntingtown and the current 69-kilovolt transmission line poles will be replaced with 230-kv line poles. Dennison said the second phase will connect the Sollers Wharf station to the Hewitt Road station.

Dennison said the transmission line in Solomons will extend about 1.5 miles and will run along the existing right of way, and the number of pole locations will be reduced from 29 to 18 in Solomons. The existing 69-kv poles are about 65 to 75 feet tall. The heights of the new galvanized, self-supporting poles will be between 135 and 150 feet, according to the presentation.

Dennison explained the river crossing, which he said was “glossed over” during the meeting in May, in greater detail.

This time next year, the underground horizontal directional drilling will be done, Dennison said. It will consist of drilling a 2-mile long pilot hole from St. Mary’s to the Navy Recreation Center in Solomons, which Dennison said was a more expensive option but had less environmental impact. After the pilot hole is drilled, the hole needs to be reamed because the path needs be 42 inches wide to hold the cable, Dennison said.

Ken Capps, SMECO’s senior vice president of engineering, addressed the alternatives SMECO considered after the meeting in May.

The most commonly suggested alternative was to put the transmission lines underground through the 1.5-mile stretch in Solomons. Capps said to do this, the company would need to obtain rights to a new right of way and would have “significant” permitting issues because the line would travel through wetlands. The cost of construction for the 1.5-mile portion would also increase from $3.3 million to $35 million. Capps said this option was not feasible.

Another request was to shorten the pole heights by adding poles. Most of the project spans long, straight right of ways, Capps said, and the poles are about 800 feet apart. Portions in Solomons are more curved than straight, he said, and as additional poles are added to bring down the height while maintaining the required ground clearances, “we didn’t get any improvement.” He said there “wasn’t any feasibility in improving the pole height” by adding poles.

Some residents suggested leaving the existing 69-kv line on its current poles and just putting the new 230-kv line on a new structure to lower the pole heights. Capps said while there would be some cost savings by doing this, there would be 47 structures throughout the town rather than the 18 currently planned. He said it’s a feasible plan, but it adds pole structures and only reduces the pole height by about 10 to 15 feet.

“I don’t believe that’s giving us the visual improvements to aesthetics that everyone’s after,” Capps said.

Suggestions were also made to put the existing 69-kv line underground to help lower the pole heights. Capps said the cost of the project would increase by $5.1 million and the pole height would only be lowered by about 15 to 20 feet.

“It’s feasible to put the 69-kv underground, but for the pole height reduction that we’re getting and the additional $5.1 million,” it’s not an option, Capps said.

The original pole designs include two 69-kv circuits — one for the existing line and one for a future line. Some residents suggested taking away the second circuit to lower the pole height. Capps said without the second circuit, the pole height only decreases by about 10 feet and will hinder any future projects.

“In the future, there will be an engineer coming in behind us and he’s going to have the task of building the additional circuitry, and it’s going to be nearly impossible,” Capps said. “For that 10 feet of pole height and the visual impact, we don’t think it’s fair to the communities in front of us and for the reliability of that system to forego that second 69-kv circuit.”

The end result, according to the presentation, was that SMECO’s original design is the best option to ensure reliability.

Those in attendance were then shown photographs containing the superimposed poles from the top of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge, from the visitor’s center, driving south toward the bridge, looking north toward the Holiday Inn Solomons Conference Center and Marina and looking south near Boomerangs Original Ribs.