PSC's hearings on power plant projects delayed

State agencies given until Dec. to finish review of Duke, Mirant proposals

July 12, 2002|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

After public opposition and a request from eight state agencies for a moratorium on multiple power plant construction projects, Maryland Public Service Commission hearings for two proposed projects in Frederick and Montgomery counties have been suspended until December.

PSC hearing examiners overseeing applications from Duke Energy North America and Mirant Corp. said in rulings this week that the delay will give the state agencies time to complete a review and revise the approval process for licensing multiple power projects.

Although only Duke and Mirant have filed applications, two other companies have expressed interest in building plants in that area.

The moratorium request was spurred by concerns that a stretch of land several miles long could be inundated with power plants, which could cause more pollution, strain the water supply from the Potomac River and destroy agricultural land.

"We are pleased with the PSC's action," said J. Charles Fox, head of the Department of Natural Resources, one of the eight agencies charged with making recommendations to state regulators about the licensing of each power project.

"We believe that it is a responsible response to the challenge of managing multiple power plant proposals," said Fox. "We are committed to moving expeditiously in our work to develop new criteria for these types of decisions."

Fox said a Cabinet-level task force has been formed and has begun drawing up new guidelines. Fox expects the task force to complete its work by Dec. 1, which is when the PSC stay on both hearings will be lifted.

Only Mirant, which wants to expand a power plant near Dickerson in Montgomery County, has opposed the delay.

"We're not too keen on having the process delayed while we're already more than a year into it," said Steven Arabia, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Mirant. "If we stay the course as the hearing examiner has ordered and we get back on track on Dec. 1, we're confident that things will work out OK.

"We're expanding at an existing facility," Arabia said. "There isn't a more appropriate place. We believe our project by definition is industrial smart growth. All the infrastructure is already in place."

Duke, which wants to build a 640-megawatt station about six miles away near Point of Rocks in Frederick County, agreed to the request for a stay. But the Texas-based company asked for a two-phased approach, which would require energy companies to declare an intent to file a project application by next month. Those companies would then have to file an application by November.

In the second phase, energy companies that complied with the deadline would proceed with hearings. This process would weed out hypothetical applications, Duke said.

"While Duke Energy previously believed that consideration of its application should proceed immediately, the agencies have a strong and legitimate interest in preserving their ability to formulate recommendations in the public interest, and the commission has a similar interest - as well as an equally important one - in protecting the integrity of the adjudicative and decision-making process," Duke said in a letter to hearing examiner Joel M. Bright on July 2.

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