Co-op Updates Reliability Project

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Co-op Updates Reliability Project

Prince Frederick, MD - 4/18/2012

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By Marty Madden

Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative’s (SMECO) multi-million dollar project continues to progress, co-op officials told the Calvert County Commissioners April 17.

The project involves linking the jurisdictions served by the co-operative with a new 230 kilovolt line. Officials report the work will result in fewer poles, although the new structures will be substantially taller. No new rights-of-way will be used for the pathway.

J. Austin “Joe” Slater, SMECO’s president and CEO, conceded the project will pose temporary inconveniences for residents. However, Slater reminded the board the end result would yield “electricity we rely on” and a better “quality of life.”

“We’re at a point where we need to build this project,” said SMECO Government Public Affairs Manager Tom Dennison, who explained Calvert’s customers have doubled in the past 20 years and the demand on the co-op’s system has tripled during the same period. “SMECO’s current bulk transmission system will not support a system failure and meet the existing and growing electric service demands in Calvert County.”

The first phase of the project involves linking the Holland Cliff station in Huntingtown with a new station to be constructed in Lusby, in Sollers Wharf - Pardoe Road area.

Slater reported that SMECO has received five permits since February. They are: the approval of the Maryland Critical Area Commission, a Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) tidal wetland permit, a MDE non-tidal wetland and waterways permit, Calvert County grading permit and MDE national pollutant discharge elimination system permit. Another permit, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is still pending. “We’re expecting that very soon,” said Slater.

The issue of poles—their height, color and location—has previously resulted in some consternation for SMECO in Calvert County. Dennison explained the new poles’ average height is 140 feet, the maximum height is 160 feet and there will be 800 feet between poles. The number of structures will decrease from more than 400 to 230, with the most common being a single-pole structure.

Slater said the co-op’s decision to use galvanized rather than weathering steel was based on public input. He admitted galvanized was the most expensive option but felt it blended better with the area’s skyline. “I feel very comfortable with that decision,” said Slater.

As to the poles’ height, SMECO Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations Ken Capps said “going taller is an industry trend.”

Construction of the Sollers Wharf Station is scheduled to begin in September and will take about a year to complete.

The project’s Calvert segment has involved the creation of several access roads, grading to accommodate heavy equipment—bulldozers, cement trucks, cranes and tractor-trailers—and agreements with several landowners to handle temporary pole and equipment storage.

During the board’s question and answer segment, Commissioner Susan Shaw [R] asked about the Patuxent River crossing segment of the project. Capps explained that horizontal drilling system was going to be used and that the line under the river would link Point Patience in Calvert with the Town Creek area in St. Mary’s County. “It’s a significant portion of the project,” said Capps, who estimated the cost of the underground river crossing would be $25 million.Shaw thanked SMECO officials for “no visual crossing at Solomons,” noting such a crossing, like the power lines spanning the river connecting Southern Prince George’s County and Calvert, would be aesthetically displeasing to tourists. The Patuxent River crossing phase of the reliability project is scheduled to start in late 2013 and will take approximately one year to complete.

Co-op officials pointed out the efforts made to reach out to nearly 400 landowners living along the project’s right-of-way. Open houses are scheduled for April 23 at Hilton Garden Inn, Solomons from 5 to 8 p.m.; April 24 at Spring Hill Suites, Prince Frederick from 5 to 8 p.m.; Solomons Civic Association, May 22; and Solomons Business Association, June 6.

SMECO officials hope to have the project complete and the new components in service by March 2015.

Contact Marty Madden at

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