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Sierra Club Appeals TrAIL Decision, Plans ahead for PATH
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by Jim Kotcon | 2008

The WV Public Service Commission backpeddles so we have to peddle faster to oppose un-needed and un-wanted powerlines!

Proposals for high-voltage transmission lines are creating controversy across West Virginia. On March 30, 2007, TrAILCo, a subsidiary of Allegheny Energy, filed an application with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) for approval to build the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL), a 500 kv line from southwestern Pennsylvania to Meadow Brook in Virginia.

Tremendous local opposition developed, and the PSC Staff concluded that the line was not needed. Public hearings were held in 2007, and an unprecedented ten days of formal evidentiary hearings  were held in January, 2008. Overwhelming opposition and adverse testimony were presented.

Expert witnesses from the Sierra Club and other parties demonstrated that the line was not needed, and that TrAILCo had overlooked significant adverse environmental impacts. They had failed to consider the opportunities to reduce demand through energy conservation, and had totally ignored any study of the indirect effect of the line on encouraging greenhouse gas emissions. Worst of all, their own studies showed that their proposed route was longer, more expensive, and had greater environmental impacts than a more direct route through Maryland.

SURPRISE SETTLEMENT
But in a surprise move, the PSC Staff on April 15 announced a settlement in which they dropped their opposition to the line in exchange for a new route through Grafton, WV and for additional financial incentives. During evidentiary hearings in May, PSC Staff admitted that they still did not find a need for the line before 2014, and that the environmental impacts of the Grafton Route were worse than the original proposal, and both were worse than the direct route through Maryland.

Shortly after the settlement, Governor Manchin announced his proposal for a “transmission tax” to offset the financial impact of the line on WV ratepayers. A Sierra Club FOIA request turned up several references between the Governor’s office and PSC Staff during the negotiations over the Settlement Agreement, but no documents were released that documented direct interference with the PSC decision.

On August 1, the PSC announced their final decision to approve the TrAIL line, with the Grafton Route, even though many people along that route had never had a chance to intervene to protect their property.

On Aug. 6, the WV Sierra Club filed a Motion to Reconsider with the PSC, arguing that the decision to approve TrAIL was based on faulty arguments, improper data, and other legal flaws. If denied, the Club will have no choice but to appeal the matter to the WV Supreme Court.

WHY THIS MATTERS
The Sierra Club believes that global warming represents the greatest threat to our environment that the world has ever faced. We need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next few years or dangerous interference with the climate system will be unavoidable.

But the TrAIL line is designed specifically to transmit increased levels of coalfired electricity from the Ohio Valley to the East Coast. By making this “cheap” electricity available, the line would not only undercut the incentives for energy conservation, it would displace electricity generated by cleaner, but more expensive power plants on the East Coast. As such, the line would indirectly encourage a dramatic increase in greenhouse gases, at a time when we need to be making substantial investments to reduce those emissions.

WHY IS ALLEGHENY ENERGY DOING THIS?
This is all based on the “National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor“ (NIETC). In response to a huge blackout in August 2003, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This bill had some beneficial aspects, but also included incentives for new transmission lines within these designated corridors. Among other things, the bill directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve “incentive rates of return” for any investment to develop new lines, even if the lines were never used, even if the lines were never even built. Hence, Allegheny can not lose. No matter what they spend, they make a huge profit. The normal discipline of the marketplace has been replaced by a government-mandated shakedown of the ratepayers, and guaranteed profits for utility stockholders.

Furthermore, the bill also mandates that FERC can approve a line within a designated NIETC, even if local state agencies denied approval. Even Governor Manchin has objected to this loss of state authority over transmission line siting within its territory. FERC has ruled that all ratepayers in the region must share in the cost of the line, even if we in West Virginia do not need it and will not use the electricity it transmits.

NOW PATH
Not content with one line, Allegheny recently formed an alliance with American Electric Power to propose construction of the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH). This line would extend from the John Amos plant near Charleston north across West Virginia, and ultimately all the way to New Jersey. PATH has begun a series of public meetings to tout the need for the line, and to “gather public input”. However, the meetings are constructed in a way that provides little meaningful public input. They are little more than elaborate propaganda events to convince local landowners to accept the line. PATH has indicated they plan to file an application with the PSC later this fall. Affected landowners and other interest groups can file letters of protest or a formal intervention at that time.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
First
, get informed. More information on TrAIL is available at the Chapter web page:  www.westvirginia.sierraclub.org Or you can contact the Energy Committee for detailed fact sheets via jkotcon@wvu.edu.

Second, talk to local politicians, neighbors, and friends. Generate letters of opposition and resolutions from your City Council, County Commission, or local legislative delegations.

Third, ask local legislators to support reforms of state statutes to improve public notification, and assure that any line is actually needed before asking ratepayers to pay for it.

Finally, contact our Congressional delegation and demand that the National Interest Electric Corridor laws be repealed. Do not allow utilities to take private property for their own profit. Require that utilities adopt the least costly approach (energy conservation) to meeting electricity demand and eliminate the rate incentives that guarantee profits to utilities, especially if the lines that are not needed.

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