- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This letter was sent in response to the president of the board of directors at Windward Harbor at Solomons Condominium Inc. A copy was sent to The Calvert Recorder in response to the Feb. 22 letter “SMECO poles will ruin local aesthetics” in The Calvert Recorder.
Thank you for your Feb. 13 letter on behalf of the board of directors of Windward Harbour at Solomons Condominium Inc. regarding our Southern Maryland Reliability project. We appreciate your support of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative’s plans to improve services and system reliability for our customer-members in Calvert County. We have undertaken this project — the largest in SMECO’s 75-year history — with the singular mission of meeting our customer-members’ ever-growing demands for electricity and ensuring reliable services. We are using an existing transmission line corridor that has been in existence for decades. We are also mindful that our project be done in a fiscally responsible way consistent with the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) that was granted to us by the Maryland Public Service Commission in September of 2009 to build the line.
Although you note that you only recently were made aware of our project, our notification process has been extensive and years in the making. We have met with Solomons residents in groups and individually numerous times over the past two years to discuss our project. In 2012, we hosted meetings at the Calvert Marine Museum for members of the Solomons Business Association and Solomons Civic Association. We hosted open houses at the Hilton Garden Inn when we applied for a license in 2008 and before we began construction last year. We appeared multiple times before the Calvert County commissioners in meetings that were televised and covered by the local media. We sent letters to thousands of our customer-members in Calvert County early last year to update them on our project status and to announce that construction would be beginning. These efforts are in addition to our dedicated project website, our dedicated project hotline and newsletter articles.
Please allow me to offer some additional details and further explanation to clarify our plans and allay some of the concerns cited in your letter. Our project involves installing 230-kv transmission lines on galvanized poles in existing SMECO right of way. The right of way currently supports a 69-kv line on steel and wooden pools. During construction, the poles will be removed and the 69-kv lines transferred to the galvanized structures, immediately below the new 230-kv lines. It is important to note that our new project will result in a significant reduction in the number of poles from Dowell Road to the Navy Recreational Center — from 47 to 18. The average pole height is approximately 140 feet (by comparison, observe the existing cellular tower near the Solomons Holiday Inn Conference Center & Marina at the height of 185 feet).
When complete, this project will close a 230-kv loop throughout SMECO’s service territory that is necessary for electric system reliability, and will eliminate the contingency that we experienced in January of 2005 when our system was stretched to the limit in restoring power to southern Calvert County, when our existing 69-kv cable in the Patuxent River failed. This project is designed exclusively to keep the lights on for our customer-members.
In your letter, you urged us to consider installing this line underground. We have, indeed, spent thousands of dollars and countless hours considering numerous alternatives for the Solomons area. Our existing transmission line right of way is located behind the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department and a commercial strip mall along Newton Road. It crosses over Route 4 near the McDonald’s and travels along Route 4 on the recreational center. We evaluated placing the existing 69-kv transmission line and the new 230-kv transmission lines underground from Dowell Road to the river (approximately 1.5 miles). This would cost in excess of $35 million. Using above-ground structures such as we have done thus far in other established neighborhoods in Calvert County, and what the state of Maryland has approved for every other area of our 28-mile project, would cost about $3 million. While it would be more than 10 times more expensive to put this entire section underground, we believe we would not receive permitting authority to do so because of existing wetland, state highway and land access constraints.
The section of the project that will be built underground is on new rights of way on the recreational center. This underground section will begin where our above-ground easement stops and proceed on the recreational center property to the area where we will install our lines under the Patuxent River via horizontal directional drill.
Contrary to the suggestion stated in your letter that we are favoring the Navy center over home and business owners of Solomons, we are installing above-ground structures on the recreational center property where we have existing right of way. We are putting the one section underground because we do not have existing rights of way. Our plan for this project, which was licensed by Maryland Public Service Commission after months of rigorous review by environmental regulators, is to use above-ground structures where we have existing right of way and existing poles.
To summarize, SMECO’s board of directors and I take great pride in the overall success of our project since we began construction last April. We deeply disagree with your assessment that this critically important infrastructure project that is designed solely to keep the lights on for our customer-members would somehow have a deleterious impact on the Solomons community. We have commissioned several high-resolution, to-scale photo renderings of our poles in the Solomons area that we would be happy to share at your convenience.
We encourage you to learn more about our project and track our progress at www.smeco.coop/reliability, and we look forward to continued dialogue as our construction progresses.
Austin J. Slater Jr., Hughesville
The writer is the president and CEO of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.