The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dan Pellegrini, Judge
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge*fn1 HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge*fn2
OPINION BY JUDGE PELLEGRINI
Springfield Township petitions for review of an order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (Commission) granting a certificate of public convenience to PPL Electric Utility Corporation (PPL) to construct a seven-mile high-voltage (HV) electric transmission line and substation using the "PPL Functional Configuration" rather than the "Springfield Configuration." For the reasons that follow, we affirm the Commission‟s decision.
This case deals with the need for an upgrade to Lehigh Valley‟s HV electric transmission network and the best way to meet that need. Due to the rapid growth in PPL‟s southern Lehigh Valley region, a great demand has been placed on PPL‟s existing electrical facilities and it has to reinforce the existing 69 kV transmission system serving Northern Bucks and Southern Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The problems consist of conductor and transformer overloads and low voltage, as well as the long range requirements for PPL‟s Southern Lehigh region up through the year 2020. Failure to reinforce the facilities affects reliable service to the public and will create the potential for loss of service to many of PPL‟s customers in the area.
To alleviate this problem, PPL engineers need to evaluate electrical solutions or "functional configurations" to identify the best solutions to resolve the reliability issues. "A functional configuration‟ is a potential electrical solution that addresses the reliability issues based upon engineering considerations as determined by engineers in PPL electric‟s Planning Department... (Citations omitted.) Stated otherwise, a functional configuration is simply an electrical solution; it does not identify or evaluate the project location or alternative routes for the associated transmission lines." (PPL‟s brief at 13.) PPL further explained that after the functional configurations are identified, it compares and selects the one configuration that best meets its customers‟ electric needs in a reliable manner over its planning horizon which, in this case, would be until the year 2020:
The evaluation of alternative functional configurations considers the ability of each solution to solve the original reliability problem and provide the ability and flexibility to meet future system needs, as well as the overall cost. Importantly, a full siting analysis is not part of the initial determination of alternative functional configurations; rather, a functional configuration is selected on the basis of how well it accomplishes PPL Electric‟s statutory obligation to provide safe and reliable service to its customers over time and at a reasonable cost. Simply stated, a full siting analysis, including consideration of the environmental impacts, is not conducted at this stage because a functional configuration is not an alternative route for a high voltage transmission line but, rather, is a possible electrical or engineering solution to an identified reliability problem.
In this case, PPL studied two functional configurations for enhancing the reliability of its transmission grid in the region. The first option, referred to as the "Springfield Functional Configuration," involved constructing a new three or four-mile HV transmission line. The second option, referred to as the "PPL Functional
Configuration," involved constructing a new substation in Springfield Township and constructing a new six-or-seven-mile HV transmission line beginning in Southern Lehigh County and traversing through Springfield and Richland Townships in Northern Bucks County. PPL selected the PPL Functional Configuration because it believed that method was less expensive and provided flexibility for predicted future system expansion needs. Specifically, the PPL Functional Configuration would eliminate overload and excessive voltage drop violations and improve reliability by providing additional high-capacity transmission lines and increased substation transmission capacity for the region. It would also improve transfer capability for load restoration and increase load sectionalizing flexibility for line maintenance. Without the new substation, the load would be served by the Hosensack substation which was eight miles away and would not provide the same benefits, reliability and flexibility. The Springfield Functional Configuration would not provide the degree of load transfers and resectionalizing of load because of the magnitude of customer load supplied by the longer transmission paths. It would also require longer lines; would require transformer reinforcements at existing regional substations; and would require rebuilding the substation structures, which would be difficult because all substation loads would need to be transferred away to temporary substation facilities during construction. It would also have substantial social impacts because the transmission lines would cross densely populated areas and impact numerous homes. Last, but not least, the cost of the PPL Functional Configuration, for just those portions to be constructed through 2011, was $36 million compared to the $41 million it would cost to construct the Springfield Functional Configuration for the same time period.
After PPL chose the PPL Functional Configuration, it then presented the preferred functional configuration to PPL‟s siting team which conducted a general review of the relevant area. This included a preliminary consideration of the environmental impacts of the selected functional configuration. If the siting team had found the selected functional configuration had significant environmental or other relevant impacts, the siting team would have communicated its concerns to the planning department for further consideration of an alternative functional configuration. Because that did not occur, the siting team then conducted a full siting analysis to identify and analyze possible alternative routes for the HV transmission lines that would be necessary to implement the selected functional configuration.
PPL analyzed three line route options: "the Cross Country Corridor;"*fn3 "the Route 309 Line;"*fn4 and "the SEPTA line."*fn5 After reviewing the associated costs and other considerations, PPL selected the Cross Country Corridor.
On February 14, 2008, PPL filed an application with the Commission for approval of the siting and reconstruction of the proposed the Coopersburg #1 and #2 138/69 kV Tap in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County and Springfield and Richland Townships, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It also sought to construct a related substation control building at Hickon Road in Springfield Township to protect control equipment (the Substation).*fn6 PPL further sought to acquire rights-of-way (ROW) for the construction, use, operation, repair and maintenance of the preferred route for its transmission line, the proposed Cross Country Corridor. PPL filed several applications for approval to exercise the power of eminent domain to acquire ROWs and easements necessary for the construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed Cross Country Corridor.
Numerous parties filed protests to the application and various parties filed petitions to intervene based on environmental concerns, including Springfield Township (Township).*fn7 On August 12, 2008, tour and site views were conducted for the "Cross Country Corridor," the "Route 309 Corridor," the "SEPTA Corridor" and the Hickon Road substation site. After four public hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ) with more than 60 witnesses discussing, among other issues,*fn8 the environmental impact of PPL‟s choice of the PPL Functional Configuration rather than the Springfield Functional Configuration, the ALJ made a recommended decision to the Commission that PPL‟s application be approved.
The ALJ found that there was no dispute that PPL required additional transformer capacity in the southern Lehigh Region, and that PPL‟s evidence was most persuasive that the cost of the PPL Functional Configuration at $51 million over 20 years would be less than the Springfield Functional Configuration at $66 million over that same time period. The ALJ was not swayed by the Township‟s argument that the Springfield Functional Configuration would not have an adverse environmental impact.*fn9
The ALJ also found in favor of PPL‟s route choice for the PPL Functional Configuration. The Township filed exceptions to the ALJ‟s decision, essentially arguing for the denial of the application and insisting that the rejected "Springfield Functional Configuration" would meet PPL‟s planning criteria without adverse environmental impact.
The Commission denied the Township‟s exceptions. It first noted that the Township‟s interpretation of 52 Pa. Code §57.76(a)(4)*fn10 was too restrictive, and the Township understated the adverse effects of the Springfield Functional Configuration. Citing to PPL‟s reply brief, the Commission stated that it agreed with the following:
In relying on the PUC‟s regulations at 52 Pa. Code §57.76(a)(4), Springfield overlooks the portions of that regulation that incorporate considerations other than the environment. The regulation also considers the "electric power needs of the public" and the "available alternatives." As explained below, the Springfield Functional Configuration would be far inferior to the PPL Electric Functional configuration in meeting the electric power needs of the public and therefore is not a realistic alternative. Further, although cost is not mentioned in Section 57.76(a)(4), it is certainly a valid consideration in transmission line siting, and the Springfield Functional Configuration would cost substantially more than the PPL Electric Functional Configuration. PPL Reply Exc at 6-7.
(Commission‟s July 24, 2009 decision at 31.) As for the specific steps taken to protect the environment, the Commission stated that PPL had committed to taking substantial steps to mitigate any adverse effects. Specifically, PPL had agreed to the numerous mitigation measures including, but not limited to, taking reasonable steps to minimize disturbances of woodlands and wetlands; considering requests and suggestions from local government entities including Springfield Township, and to comply with reasonable requests; replace disturbed wetlands to the extent that such replacement is required by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); and not removing vegetation in rights-of-way except non-compatible vegetation that has the potential to grow more than 20 feet above the ground and where it is necessary to clear vegetation for temporary access roads that are only 15 feet in width. Because the Commission also determined that PPL‟s application had complied with the Commission‟s HV transmission line regulation, the Commission adopted the ALJ‟s recommended decision and granted PPL‟s application. The Township then filed this petition for review with our Court, and PPL intervened in the appeal.*fn11
On appeal, the Township‟s primary argument is that the Commission was obligated to address environmental impacts of other configurations even if they were rejected, which, in this case, included the environmental impact of the Springfield Functional Configuration, before it decided on a power line route. We disagree because there are no regulations that provide for such a requirement by the Commission.
All of the regulations dealing with review of siting and construction of electric transmission lines are clear when they speak in terms of proposed routes or when they speak in terms of proposed lines, i.e., proposed configurations. As discussed earlier, "routes" are different than "configurations" because "a functional configuration is simply an electrical solution; it does not identify or evaluate the project location or alternative routes for the associated transmission lines." (PPL‟s brief at 13.) Routes are the way the HV transmission lines implement the selected functional configuration. None of the regulations dealing with HV transmission line applications require the Commission to consider alternative configurations as the Township contends.
Beginning with 52 Pa. Code §57.72(c), dealing with the form and content of the application, the following subsections delineate what is of interest to the Commission when reviewing an application for a proposed HV transmission line:
(c) An application shall contain:
(3) A general description - not a legal or metes and bound description - of the proposed route of the HV line, to include the number of route miles, the right-of-way width and the location of the proposed HV line within each city, borough, town and township traversed.
(5) A general statement of the need for the proposed HV line in meeting identified present and future demands for service, of how the proposed HV line will meet that need and of the ...