GEOG 469
Energy Industry Applications of GIS

GEOG 469 Syllabus


Fall Syllabus - Energy Industry Applications of GIS

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together, these serve as our "course contract."

Photo of Ron Santini

Ron Santini
Instructor, Department of Geography
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

  • Phone: 704.895.1303 or 704.562.2591
  • E-mail: Please contact me through course discussions in Canvas
  • Office Hours: By appointment

NOTE: I will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums at least once per day during the work week (Monday through Friday). You may see me online occasionally on the weekends, but please don't count on it!

What this course IS NOT: This course is not an advanced course in GIS. Rather, it is a course assuming minimal to introductory exposure to GIS and has the following prerequisites: GEOG 030, EGEE 102, EME 444 . It is not heavily GIS oriented, rather it is a combination of lessons on the electric grid, GIS data sources, and Environmental Justice, with GIS course work included. GIS sections include Lesson 1 and Lesson 6, introducing students to ArcGIS and spatial analysis, respectively. Lessons 9-12 comprise the Term Project where you will use ArcGIS (mainly Lesson 9) in siting a proposed overhead electric transmission line. Lesson 9 can be very challenging and requires adhering to following instructions, being organized, and being adept at problem solving. If you are looking for an advanced, in-depth GIS course, this course may not be for you. Description: Roles of geographic information systems in energy siting decisions, focusing on electric energy transmission networks.

Prerequisites: GEOG 030, EGEE 102, EME 444

This course specifically looks at one segment of the energy sector, but the concepts learned here can be transferred to siting gas and oil pipelines, wind and solar farms, and conventional energy projects. Over 2 million miles of oil and gas pipeline and nearly 200,000 miles of electric transmission grid currently traverse the United States. Geographic information systems (GIS) are used to help maintain these far-flung and extremely expensive energy infrastructures. GIS is also used to help determine optimal routes for pipelines and transmission lines as energy demand and production increase, and as the grid is extended to connect to new energy sources and consumers. GEOG 469 provides you with an in-depth exploration of the complexities of siting decisions, with an emphasis on overhead electric transmission lines. You will start out exploring the history of the grid and the regulatory framework governing it. You will then be introduced to GIS through the Esri Virtual Campus. The knowledge you gain from the Virtual Campus programs will give you the skill set required to complete the final project. The course introduces a variety of siting challenges that confront the energy industry and its customers and neighbors. The course also provides hands-on experience with a common decision support technology, and considers how the technology may be used to facilitate public participation in siting decisions. You will learn what type of data is required to do a siting study using GIS, and where to find the data. You will also learn the importance of using metadata, or data about data, to determine data usability, accuracy, and relevance.

You will undertake a final project during the last four lessons, in which you must propose, research, develop, and implement a siting recommendation for an electrical transmission line. You will utilize activities from each lesson to develop primary and alternative routes. Using GIS, you will develop overlays, weights, and rankings to determine the most suitable location for a proposed transmission line. Your final product will be maps showing proposed routes based on the siting criteria and rankings developed to minimize the impacts associated with the various siting criteria used. To help you develop the critical thinking skills needed in the energy industry, you will learn to critique your peers’ analysis systematically from the perspective of local stakeholders who are most affected by siting decisions, and from decision makers.

GEOG 469 is designed to help you achieve two of the programmatic educational objectives established for the Energy and Sustainability Policy degree. It fosters energy industry knowledge by illuminating the difficulties intrinsic to facilities siting decisions, and it nurtures analytical skills by familiarizing you with GIS methodology and by teaching you how to critique GIS analysis systematically.

When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • describe characteristics of energy delivery and transmission systems in the United States;
  • cite case studies of ways in which GIS is used in the energy industry for facilities management and decision support;
  • explain how GIS can be used to facilitate public participation in facilities siting decisions;
  • identify the criteria that must be considered, identifying optimal routes for energy delivery and transmission networks;
  • use GIS to perform a routing analysis for an electricity transmission project; and
  • critique a routing analysis from the perspective of a public stakeholder and propose alternative criteria and/or solutions.

What I Expect of You

On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your prior experience with computing and the Web.

I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different than a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule, taking advantage of opportunities to communicate with me, as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson. The class schedule is published on the Canvas calendar.

We will be using ArcGIS for Desktop (Advanced) 10.x and Extensions Education Edition from Esri for this course. Upon registration, you must contact Susan Spaugh at to request a copy of this required software. It will be provided to you free of charge. You must request the software immediately or you will not be able to proceed with Lesson 1.

This copy of the software will cease working one year from the date you install it.

If you have any questions about requesting a copy of the software, please contact our Program Assistant at or toll-free (U.S.) at 877-713-7778.

NOTE: ArcGIS for Desktop (Advanced) 10.x is a commercial software package that is restricted to personal use by the student. It is unlawful for anyone to use this software package without the appropriate commercial license from Esri Inc. to generate personal or corporate profit or revenue. ArcGIS for Desktop (Advanced) 10.x only runs on a Windows operating system. If you are using a Mac computer, please read the instructions for using "arcGIS on a Mac" under the Resources menu.

All additional materials needed for this course are presented on our course website and in Canvas. In order to take this course, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the World Campus.

This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning:

  • Automated online quizzes to keep track of student performance in individual lessons and to help instructors ensure that students complete the required assignments on schedule. Quizzes will include multiple-choice, matching, and short-answer questions. They represent "low-stakes" evaluations of student progress, meant to encourage keeping up with the course material.
  • Required participation in online discussion forums to provide opportunities for instructors to gauge students’ progress. Subsequent small group discussions will reveal students abilities to effectively articulate key concepts.
  • Learning activities that require students to research resources and solutions to problems related to the energy industry.
  • A final project, based on a case study, will be used to evaluate students’ cumulative knowledge of the course material and as an assessment of students’ overall mastery of the course material. You are required to accurately cite all of your work using a citation style of your choice. Please see our Citation Style Guide for details.

These assignments are outlined in the chart below (see Course Schedule). Final overall grades will be determined based on your grades on each course assignment, using the weighting information also shown in the chart provided in the Course Schedule section. So that you know where you stand, all grades will be posted in Canvas with each assignment. You will be able to track your progress and calculate your average as the course goes along.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student.

NOTE: Do not expect me to round up or curve grades during or at the end of the semester. Grades will not be curved. Put your best effort into all of the assignments as you complete them.

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is twelve weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long.

NOTE: See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

Course Schedule
Before the first day of class... Course Orientation
  • Install ArcGIS
  • Complete the Course Orientation
2.5% of course grade
Week 1
Lesson 1
Roles of GIS in Energy System Siting Decisions
  • Small-group discussion of case study
  • Whole-class discussion of case study
  • Begin Esri - Learning ArcGIS Desktop (for ArcGIS 10)
5% of course grade
Week 2
Lesson 2
Major Siting Challenges in the Energy Enterprise, Part 1
  • Class discussion of grid expansion roadblocks
  • Continue Esri - Learning ArcGIS Desktop (for ArcGIS 10)
5% of course grade
Week 3
Lesson 3
Major Siting Challenges in the Energy Enterprise, Part 2
  • Complete Esri - Learning ArcGIS Desktop (for ArcGIS 10)
  • Class discussion of The Power Hungry series
15% of course grade (10% for the Esri certificate and 5% for the discussion
Week 4
Lesson 4
Facilitating Public Participation with GIS
  • Public Participation Quiz
  • Class discussion
5% of course grade (0 % for the quiz and 5% for the discussion)
Week 5
Lesson 5
Overview of Electric Energy Transmission Siting Criteria
  • State-by-state (or country) comparison of transmission line size
5% of course grade
Week 6
Lesson 6
Completing the Esri Spatial Analysis Course
  • Esri - Learning ArcGIS Spatial Analyst (for ArcGIS Spatial Analyst 9.0-9.1)
10% of course grade
Week 7
Lesson 7
Understanding GIS Error, Accuracy, Precision, and Metadata
  • Precision and Accuracy Quiz
  • Metadata chart
7.5% of course grade (2.5% for the quiz and 5% for the Metadata chart)
Week 8
Lesson 8
Finding GIS Data for Siting Projects
  • Data source spreadsheet
5% of course grade
Week 9
Lesson 9
Beginning the Term Project
  • Term project background document
10% of course grade
Week 10
Lesson 10
Addressing Negative Public Comments
  • Public participation response
10% of course grade
Week 11
Lesson 11
Presenting Your Siting Project
  • 10-12 minute narrated presentation
10% of course grade
Week 12
Lesson 12
Siting Plan Review
  • Peer review of presentation
10% of course grade

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the ITS Help Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our technical requirements page to view the mixed content.

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation, see Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Inclement Weather

In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know.

Participation in Peer-to-Peer Activities

This course follows the Energy and Sustainability Policy programs' Constructive Participation in ESP Peer-Peer Activities policy for student participation in peer-to-peer activities in ESP courses, such as group discussions, team projects and peer reviews of another’s work. In all peer-to-peer learning activities, students are expected to participate constructively with others in the practice and development of effective communication skills. This means NO personal attacks, NO name calling, and NO threatening language of any kind. Consequences may include losing the opportunity to participate in (and earn credit for) all remaining peer-to-peer assignments for the duration of the course. Any instance of threatening language will be reported to the Penn State Office of Student Conduct.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.