Power line planned under Lake Erie sparks concern from residents

Sep 11, 2017

Lake Erie is a route for huge freighters carrying cargo to cities like Cleveland and Buffalo. Now a company wants to use the lake to transport another product: electricity.

It plans to run an underwater electrical cable from Canada to the U.S. -- the first one to cross any of the Great Lakes.

It’s called the Lake Erie Connector, and it’s proposed to run 73 miles from Nanticoke, Ont., to Erie County, Penn. About 40 of those miles will be under the Lake Erie. It will connect to the PJM energy sector, which brings power to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and 10 other states.

ITC Grid Development is in charge of the $1 billion project.

Company President Terry Harvill says the line will make use of excess energy from Canada. And because that country’s power is mostly generated from renewable sources, Harvill says the project could benefit U.S. energy consumers.

“There’s cheaper, cleaner energy in Ontario today, so the US can benefit from that in the near term,” he said.

Related: Offshore wind farm on Lake Erie moves forward

The electricity trade between the U.S. and Canada is on the rise. According to the Energy Information Administration there are more than 30 power transmission linkages between the two countries.

But the Lake Erie Connector project has met some resistance from Pennsylvania homeowners who live in area where a converter station will be built. Their primary concern is water.

Douglas Lavery and his wife have lived in their house in western Erie County for nearly 40 years. His brother lives next door, and they’re among a handful of residents in the rural community.  

Lavery worries the project could disrupt their water table and that the new converter station, which is proposed to be about the size of a football field and 60 feet tall, could lower their property values.  

“We’re not trying to throw up road blocks, but we want our rights respected, we want our water respected,” he said. “I’ve told several people in meetings water is more valuable than gold and if you don’t have it, you’re never going to get it back.”

The Michigan based company says homeowners don’t need to worry about property values, because the converter station will be set back from the road and buffered by landscaping. ITC also said it plans to use construction techniques that will limit any impact to the area’s water supply.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper doesn’t expect the project to cause problems.

“You have to understand that this is coming into Erie County in probably one of the least populated areas, particularly along the lake,” she said. “So the impact to where people live to their property is actually fairly minimal because of where they are coming in to our county.”

She acknowledges the water table concerns from Lavery’s neighborhood.

“I know there’s been concerns about that, about disrupting their water table, I know the company has tried to address that, but truthfully I’ve had very little discussion come into our office or into county government or our other offices about this,” she said.

Ground-breaking for the Lake Erie Connector project is slated for 2018.