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PATH Delay Creates Legislative Opportunity
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by Jim Kotcon, Energy Committee Chair | 2010

There is an additional update on the PATH Powerline issue on our website. Big happenings in Maryland and Virginia!

The proposed PATH Transmission line, a 765-kv conduit to send more coal-fired electricity to the East Coast, has been delayed at the request of the utilities proposing the line, following set-backs in Maryland. The Maryland Public Service Commission ruled in September that PATH, LLC, was not a utility under Maryland law, and asked the local Maryland utility, Potomac Edison, if they would re-file a corrected application.

Potomac Edison did not re-file by the October deadline, so the Maryland PSC dismissed that section of the line. As a result, the WV-PSC Staff asked the PSC to dismiss the West Virginia PATH application, because there was no eastern end for the line, and it would be a waste of staff and citizen resources to analyze a route when there was no definitive final route or end location. More importantly, the WV-PSC staff stated that new data on actual electric demand and new projections for need would become available in early 2010, and the line may not be needed (echoing a key Sierra Club argument).

Instead of dismissing the case, the PSC agreed to a 7-month extension, with new data on electricity need, and a complete application to be filed, and a new schedule for hearings to be held in late 2010.

While an outright dismissal would be preferred by the Sierra Club, the delay is almost as good, because it gives legislators time to address some key flaws in the transmission siting process.

The Sierra Club and the WV Environmental Council will be pushing hard for new rules to require notification of landowners along transmission line corridors. Current rules allow the utility to propose a corridor, and to receive approval from the PSC to take property, without ever giving the landowners whose land would be taken any actual notice of their right to intervene.

Other provisions and legislative changes would require the PSC to consider indirect impacts, including impacts to adjacent landowners, impacts to air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions from the power plants that would supply a line. The proposed rules would also mandate protection for scenic areas, require the PSC to consider alternatives to a new line, and balance the need for the line against the impacts to ratepayers.

Meanwhile, a proposal by Governor Manchin to impose a transmission tax has not gained much traction during interim committee meetings. Although the Governor has argued that this tax would help fund benefits for West Virginians from any transmission line, most legislators did not support the idea that the solution to the problems was to impose a tax.

Because of the delay, the 2010 Legislature could adopt these new rules and mandate that they take effect in time to resolve problems with the PATH case. The 2010 Legislature convenes on January 13 for their regular 60-day session.

For more information, or to volunteer help, contact the Chapter Energy Committee at 304-594-3322.

What You Can Do:

Call or write to your state Delegates and Senators today. Ask them to oppose PATH and to support legislation to require the PSC to consider pollution emissions, scenic protection, and consumer need in their decisions. Demand that they oppose any new transmission taxes, such as one recommended by Governor Manchin this year

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