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Bad News For West Virginia: PATH Application Filed
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by Jim Kotcon, Energy Committee Chair | 2009

Here we go again! This time it is the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline.

On May 15, an application was filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) for the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH). PATH is a joint project of American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy through their subsidiary, PATH, LLC. PATH would build a 765-kV electric transmission line from the John Amos substation in Kanawha County across 225 miles of central and eastern West Virginia, to the Kemptown substation south of Frederick, Maryland. PATH estimates the cost at $1.849 billion, and wants to complete the line by 2014. The PSC is expected to take approximately one year before issuing a decision on the PATH application.

Sierra Club Intervenes

In June, the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed a joint Petition to Intervene in the case. This gives the Chapter certain rights to examine witnesses and present expert testimony before the PSC. The main issues which we will review will be the adverse environmental impact of the line, and the less-impacting alternatives to a new line. Impacts include direct impacts from construction and permanent loss of habitat in the transmission corridor, aesthetic impacts, and disruption of recreational opportunities in public lands crossed by the line. Indirect impacts will result from increased air pollution emissions associated with the generation of electricity carried by these lines. This generation is primarily from coal-fired power plants, hence the line will also indirectly lead to increased mining and mountaintop removal, water quality impacts, loss of habitat, etc. By far the greatest concern is the emissions of greenhouse gases that will exacerbate global warming.

In addition, we will demonstrate that energy efficiency and simple conservation measures can eliminate the need for a new transmission line. Due to the obvious environmental impacts, PATH wants to portray the line as essential to transmit renewable energy. (If the goal was really to transmit renewable energy, would the PATH line start at the largest coal-fired power plant in West Virginia? Who are they trying to fool?)

In preparing for the case, the West Virginia Chapter hosted a transmission line training workshop in March at Cacapon State Park. The event was sponsored by the Club’s Environmental Law Program, and over 60 people from surrounding states, Washington, DC, and the San Francisco office participated. The Club’s National Coal Campaign has also awarded a grant to the Chapter to assist with public education and citizen organizing. One such event in Buckhannon in May was attended by over 50 concerned citizens. Other citizen groups are also organizing at a grassroots level, and it is expected that many affected landowners will also intervene. Additional fundraising for legal fees and expert witnesses is still underway.

Similar applications have been filed in Virginia and Maryland for segments of the line in those states, and the Virginia and Maryland Chapters will be involved in those states. But most of the line is in West Virginia, so our Chapter bears a heavy responsibility.

What Happens Next?

In addition, it appears that an Environmental Impact Statement may be required, as the route crosses parts of the Monongahela National Forest, the Appalachian Trail, and the C&O Canal. Federal agencies are currently preparing a “Programmatic EIS” to identify preferred corridors where such lines might be placed with the fewest impacts, but PATH has requested that their route be approved before the Programmatic EIS is concluded. More info is available at: www.eastcorridoreis.anl.gov

It is expected that the PSC will hold public hearings in various counties during summer and fall. An “evidentiary” hearing will likely be held next winter, where expert testimony will be taken and cross-examined. The exact timetable has not yet been established by the PSC

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