Date of Award
Master of Community Planning
Marcia Marker Feld
Throughout the country, power line siting has become a controversial community issue, even close to home. By early summer, the Rhode Island State Planning Council will have issued an advisory opinion on a ll 5kV (kilovolt) transmission project which would incorporate construction and relocation of high voltage lines along a 5.3 mile corridor in Warwick, East Greenwich, and North Kingstown. But Rhode Island is not alone: from the suburbs of San Diego to our own northeast region, citizens and officials alike are concerned with the potential impacts of power lines. There is no simple solution to the questions which transmission line siting raises: the problems are complex. As one member of the State Planning Council in Rhode Island recently noted, conducting a review of the issues surrounding power line relocation "is like opening a pandora's box".
The health risk associated ·with EMFs, or "ElectroMagnetic Fields" is among the most prominent issues raised during the siting and approval processes. An electromagnetic field is created every time electricity is sent through a wire. The strength and size of the EMF varies with the current. Overhead power lines are not the only producers of EMFs, but they are certainly the most visible and potentially the least controllable. While household appliances, such as toasters, microwaves, and hairdryers produce fields; these appliances are used for a short period of time every day. Exposure to the EMF from a transmission line could take place for many hours a day.
The first studies of the adverse effects of EMFs were conducted in the mid-1960's in the Soviet Union and linked exposure to electromagnetic fields with leukemia and lymphoma in children. In the past thirty years, two studies in the United States and one study in Sweden have provided additional evidence to support the initial claim. However, studies conducted by Canadian researchers and scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have debated whether the correlation can be confirmed. Although the proof is inconclusive, researchers from engineering colleges such as Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University are urging caution in dealing with the issue of EMFs.
In the past five to ten years, concerns about power line location have shifted away from a purely physiological focus and turned to the socio-economics of transmission projects. Some of the concerns which may arise in a community include: impact on the natural environment, aesthetics, property devaluation, tax increases (as a result of the loss of property value) , noise generated by the lines, landscaping and buffer areas, real estate slumps, and difficulty in obtaining loans. Since 1990, a dozen court cases have been heard which address the fear of EMFs as the cause of property devaluation. Criscuola v. New York State Power Authority, a case which was heard during the fall of 1993, was a landmark decision in EMF litigation. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that homeowners could be awarded damages due to the perception of danger from EMFs. The opinion stated that "whether the danger is a genuine or verifiable fact should be irrelevant to the central issue of its market value impact".
At the APA's national conference in April of 1994, staff of the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) noted that information on EMFs and power line location was among the most frequently requested. Furthermore, two sessions at the conference dealt with "The Public and Electric Facility Siting". This issue will be of critical importance to planners, especially in urbanized areas where it is difficult to site power lines away from population centers. Pandora's box is open.
Pickering, Meredith Emily, "ENEMY LINES: THE ADVERSARIAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMMUNITIES AND ELECTRICITY" (1994). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 518.