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TrAIL transmission line is VERY controversial
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by Duane Nichols | 2008

Evidentiary hearings in front of the WV Public Service Commission are finished. The decision on Allegheny Power's TrAIL transmission line will be made by May 2nd

Some ten (10) days of “evidentiary hearings” were completed at the Public Service Commission in Charleston on January 9th thru the 19th. Two of the three PSC members presided over the hearings. Chairman Mike Albert recused himself, so the Commissioners Jon McKinney and Ed Staats will be making the decision about the project by May 2nd.

The proposed project seeks to construct a 500-kilovolt transmission line starting in Pennsylvania, passing through northern West Virginia and continuing to northern Virginia. The total length would be 240 miles. This line would run through Monongalia, Preston, Tucker, Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties in West Virginia.

Is the line necessary for reliable electric service?
Allegheny Energy with assistance from PJM Interconnect, an “independent service organization” that operates the mid-Atlantic electric transmission grid system, contended that the line is needed to provide reliable electric service – particularly in eastern West Virginia and northern Virginia. The Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Co. [TrAIL] is the managing corporation within Allegheny Energy.

The Sierra Club and the Halleck Community Association have been very active in opposition to the power line. Members of these group participated in the evidentiary hearings along with a number of other organizations and individuals, as intervenors.

“The commissioners were very respectful of all of the intervenors who oppose the TrAIL and gave them every opportunity to present their cases; they did an excellent job,” said John Balasko, of the Halleck Community Association.

He also said, “I believe that evidence was presented at the Charleston hearings that refuted the need for TrAIL and the economic benefit of the TrAIL to the state. I just hope the commissioners see ... that there are alternative and better solutions than what TrAILCo came up with.”

Siting of the line poorly planned
Many witnesses disputed Allegheny’s siting of the TrAIL project. They said the line, if built, would substantially disturb the environment of forests, streams, and natural beauty of the State. The erosion, siltation, and service roads would be continuing problems. Some dangers were described due to the spraying of herbicides to maintain the lines.

The PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division has favored an alternative route that would parallel Allegheny’s existing 500 kilovolt power lines from Fort Martin to Pruntytown and on to Mount Storm, a corridor that has been in use for about 40 years.

Proximity to a power lines is known to impact property values. And, the electromagnetic radiation may affect human beings or other living things. Further, testimony was offered by the Staff of the PSC to show that the preferred route bypasses Maryland in favor of a longer route through West Virginia, one that will impact more private property.

Any benefit to WV consumers?
Generally, opponents of the line questioned whether it would help West Virginia consumers. Some expert witnesses suggested that the proposed line is not the most cost effective option for improving the reliability of power distribution in the eastern United States.

Has demand side management been explored?
Attorney William DePaulo on behalf of the Sierra Club asked numerous questions about the validity of the calculations by Allegheny Energy regarding the potential for reducing electricity demand in eastern West Virginia and northern Virginia via programs referred to as “demand side management”.

Another intervenor was CPV-Warren, an energy development company seeking to construct a 600 megawatt power plant in Warren county (northern Virginia) to be fueled with natural gas. This company provided evidence that they could construct a facility that would be very environmentally friendly by 2011, the date by which the proposed TrAIL line is to be in operation.

Also intervening is the Bhavana Society of Hampshire county. They provided realistic alternative paths for the proposed line to prevent interference with their religious activities. According to this group, “We strongly urge the power company to move the line to an alternate site some distance away from the Bhavana Society’s property, keeping the monastery secluded from this structure and its accompanying clear-cut forest swath.”

Additional briefs required
Now that the formal hearings are over, the various parties to this Case 07-0508-E-CN have until noon, Friday, February 29th to submit proposed orders and initial briefs to the Public Service Commission. Then, these parties (including the Sierra Club) must submit reply (rebuttal) briefs by noon, Friday, March 21st.

The transcripts of the evidentiary hearings, as well as the other proceedings in this Case, can be viewed at the following web-site: www.psc.state.wv.us

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