November 22, 2006
SITING COUNCIL CRITERIA FOR ELECTRIC SUBSTATIONS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked what criteria the Siting Council uses in approving the location of an energy facility, specifically whether the council must consider proximity to residences and sensitive ecological areas in approving the location of an electric substation.
CGS § 16-50p requires the council to consider a wide range of factors in approving an energy facility. These include public health and safety, environmental impacts, and scenic, historic, and recreational values. As described in OLR Report 2003-R-0915, there are additional siting criteria for electric transmission lines.
When a developer proposes to build a substation or other energy facility, the Connecticut Energy Advisory Board (CEAB) must issue a request for alternative proposals. If a subsequent application is made to the Siting Council as a result of this process, the council must grant a certificate to the application that is the most appropriate alternative.
SITING COUNCIL CRITERIA
Factors Addressed in the Application
By law, a Siting Council certificate is needed to build or substantially modify electric substations and other energy facilities, and certain telecommunications facilities. In the case of energy facilities, at least 60 days before filing its application with the Siting Council, the facility developer must consult with the proposed host municipality regarding the proposed and alternative sites. The applicant must provide the municipality's chief elected official with its technical reports regarding the need for the proposed facility, its environmental impacts, and the site selection process.
The developer of a proposed energy or telecommunications facility must provide extensive information in its certificate application, including (1) a description of the facility, its environmental impacts, and why it is needed; and (2) justification for the chosen site or route and a comparison with other alternatives.
For substations and transmission lines, the developer must provide a map of the proposed site showing nearby settled areas, parks and scenic areas, schools and day care centers, playgrounds, and certain other land uses. The application must include a description of the facility's impact on environmental, scenic, historic, and recreational values and an analysis of how placing the facility underground would change these impacts. The application must identify the federal, state, and local reviews of the site, and a copy of each agency's position on the site. Finally, the application must justify the site, including a comparison of other sites that are environmentally, technically, and economically feasible. Somewhat different filing requirements apply to power plant applications.
In all cases, the application must be distributed widely. The developer must send a copy of the application to the following entities and individuals, among others:
1. the chief elected official of the municipality where the facility would be located and of any other municipality within 2,500 feet of the facility;
2. the land use agencies of these municipalities, including their zoning and wetlands commissions;
3. each state legislator whose district includes the proposed site or any alternative site identified by the developer;
4. various state and federal agencies; and
5. owners of land abutting the proposed site.
Each of these individuals or entities can choose to become a party in the certification proceedings. This would allow them to participate fully in these proceedings, e.g., by cross-examining the developer or other parties, and to appeal the Siting Council's decision to the courts.
Council Decision Criteria
The council cannot grant a certificate for a substation and most other energy facilities unless it finds that it is needed. In the case of power plants and underground transmission lines, the issue is instead whether the facility produces a public benefit, e.g., it is needed to ensure electric reliability or helps develop a competitive electric market.
There are additional siting criteria for transmission lines. In the case of lines with a capacity over 345 kilovolts, e.g., the Norwalk-Middletown line, there is a presumption that the line should be buried when it runs adjacent to residential areas, schools, and certain other land uses, but the applicant can rebut this presumption by demonstrating that burial is impractical.
For all facilities, the council must determine the facility's probable environmental impacts. In addition to concerns such as air and water quality, environmental impacts include public health and safety and scenic, historic, and recreational values. In order to approve an application, the council must find that the adverse environmental impacts are not a sufficient reason to deny the application.
CEAB Review Process
Under CGS § 16a-7c, when an applicant submits a Siting Council application to build an energy facility, CEAB must issue a request for proposals (RFP) to address the need the application addresses. CEAB can also issue an RFP to address needs identified in its annual energy plan for energy facilities and conservation initiatives.
Anyone can submit a proposal in response to the RFP. The proposer is subject to the same municipal consultation requirements that apply to applicants for Siting Council certificates. Within 60 days of this consultation, the municipality must issue its recommendations to the proposer. If the proposer then decides to apply for a Siting Council certificate, it must submit a summary of its consultations with the municipality and the municipality's recommendations.
Within 45 days of receiving a proposal, the CEAB must issue a report that reviews the proposal, and forward its evaluation to the Siting Council. If a proposer submits an application to the Siting Council, the Siting Council must hear the original and alternative applications in a consolidated hearing process. It must grant the certificate to the most appropriate alternative. For example, if a utility proposed to build a substation, another party could respond to the RFP by proposing to build a power plant instead. If that party went ahead and sought a Siting Council certificate for the power plant, the Siting Council would have to determine which application was the best alternative.