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PEAT forms to voice PATH need

By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

A plan to contruct PATH, the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, a 275 mile long high-voltage transmission line across West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland from Putnam County, WV to Frederick County, MD has generated a groundswell of opposition among residents across the region. A portion of the proposed line would cross southern Jefferson County. Over 250 West Virginian residents and organizations have geen granted official “intervenor” status by the West Virginia Public Services Commission. PSC spokesperson Sarah Robertson says the amount of interest in this case is “quite unusual. It might even be unprecedented.” The debate has even spilled out onto the internet, with a number of blogs devoted soley to stopping the construction of PATH.

The overhwelming majority of the intervenors are opposed to the plan. They question the need for the transmission line, protest expected hikes in electric rates, and object to the destruction of forests and wildlife areas along the proposed route to make way for the towers. Not least among the concerns of those opposed to PATH is the fact that the line will originate at the coal-fired John E. Amos power plant in Putnam County. Environmentalists say that this will increase the demand for coal extracted by mountaintop removal.

On the other side of the issue you have Allegheny Electric and American Electric Power, the two regional electric utilites which seek to contruct PATH. To help combat what they percieve as “misinformation” about PATH, Allegheny Electric and AEP have created the PATH Education and Awareness Team, or PEAT.

Clearence E. Martin III, Martinsburg attorney and former Democratic West Virginia State Delegate, is one of the five spokespeople hired by PEAT to argue on behalf of the transmission line. He says that though he is being paid to advocate for the project, he insists that he personally believes that the PATH line would be beneficial to the state. “We’re making sure the people know what the real facts are.” Said Martin.

PEAT asserts that there is a critical need to construct the PATH line. Their assetion is based on a energy demand projection showing a 2.53% increase in electricty demand over each of the next 3 years. The projection was based on data compiled in 2009 by PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization which operates the electric grid for a large portion of the northeastern United States. The Sugarloaf Conservancy disputes this projection, pointing out that the Federal Dept. of Energy only predicts a 1% increase in energy per year over the same time-period.

Martin pointed out that though electricity demand has grown at a slower rate than expected as a consequence of the recession, demand will rebound at some point. “Eventually this recession’s going to end, and we’ve got to be prepared to handle that.” Said Martin.

PEAT’s assertion that PATH is needed to strengthen the regional transmission grid is also questioned by environmentalists and residents opposed to the line. The Sierra Club says that offshore wind power could meet 100 percent of the energy needs of the mid atlantic, with

Environmentalists opposed to PATH argue that it would increase the demand for electricity generated from coal fired power plants throughout the Appalachians, increasing air pollution in the region, and lead to an increase in demand for coal extracted through mountaintop removal.

“PATH begins at West Virginia’s 3,000-megawatt John E. Amos coal-fired power plant.” Wrote Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a recent editorial published in the Washington Post. “The Amos plant ranks among the worst emitters of sulfur dioxide, mercury and global warming pollution.”

PEAT doesn’t see the use of coal, or a potential increase in mountaintop removal, as part of the debate when it comes to PATH. “I don’t think that’s a valid criticism.” Said Martin. “Energy generation is a separate issue. This is soley about the transmission of energy generated” He then added that from an economic point of view, West Virginia benefits when more coal is extracted. “Strictly from economics.” Emphasized Martin. “I’m not talking about climate. If you look at it strictly at what would economically benefit West Virginia, that would be good. More coal sales are good for West Virginia.”

Many of the intervenors protest the destruction of forest that would have to be cleared to make way for the proposed line. Private property issues like this are hard to explain away, admits Martin. “That’s personal to people, and I don’t know how to address that. One of the things we do have is have people who’ve had lines built near them testify to how minimally invasive it was. But there’s no silver bullet.

Another common criticism of PATH is that the line would not deliver electricity to this region. Opponents liken the line to a giant extension cord, bringing coal-fired electricity from West Virginia to the metropolitan areas of the East Coast. PEAT says that is flatly not true. If PATH was constructed, it would link to two substations in Welton Springs, WV and Meadow Springs, VA, which would link into the local power grid.

In the end, though, Allegheny Electric and AEP don’t even have to win over the public. They only have to convince the West Virginia Public Services Commission, a body of three men charged with regulating the utilities: Chairman Michael A. Albert, and commissioners Jon W. McKinney, and Edward H. Staats. The case will be argued infront of the PSC on Feb. 8, 2010, and a decision must be rendered by June 21, 2010.