Article

Proposed massive multistate power line could test new law

In an ambitious $3 billion plan, the nation's largest power generator has proposed building a 550-mile power line stretched atop 13-story towers to bring surplus electricity from coal-fired plants in Appalachia and the Midwest to the power-hungry eastern seaboard.

The initial proposed route would take the high-voltage power line through scenic mountain recreation areas of West Virginia, up through Maryland's midsection and across Pennsylvania's Amish country on its way to New Jersey.

Even if state regulators balk, that might not be enough to stop the project.

American Electric Power Co.'s plan could provide one of the first tests of a new law, enacted last year, that allows federal regulators to use the power of eminent domain to override states that do not approve a transmission line that has a demonstrated interstate interest.

Already, environmentalists and clean-energy advocates along the potential path of the towers are sounding alarms over the proposal, which will face years of scrutiny before the line's operative target date of 2014.

Many will watch the plan closely, from regulators measuring the benefits for their state's ratepayers to homeowners worried about property values.

Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric, which unveiled the proposal earlier this week, cautioned that the proposed route is not exact and could change dramatically.

"Obviously there are a lot of questions and people would want to... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
The initial proposed route would take the high-voltage power line through scenic mountain recreation areas of West Virginia, up through Maryland's midsection and across Pennsylvania's Amish country on its way to New Jersey.

Even if state regulators balk, that might not be enough to stop the project.

American Electric Power Co.'s plan could provide one of the first tests of a new law, enacted last year, that allows federal regulators to use the power of eminent domain to override states that do not approve a transmission line that has a demonstrated interstate interest.

Already, environmentalists and clean-energy advocates along the potential path of the towers are sounding alarms over the proposal, which will face years of scrutiny before the line's operative target date of 2014.

Many will watch the plan closely, from regulators measuring the benefits for their state's ratepayers to homeowners worried about property values.

Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric, which unveiled the proposal earlier this week, cautioned that the proposed route is not exact and could change dramatically.

"Obviously there are a lot of questions and people would want to know where it would be," said Melissa McHenry, a company spokeswoman.

"But it's too early in the process to know exactly where it would be. ... It's too early for people to be concerned about that because it could change."

American Electric is proposing to build the highest-voltage line yet in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Industry officials say new transmission lines are needed to meet growing power demands and expanding electricity markets.

Primarily, the line would serve the densely populated corridor from northern New Jersey through Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where electricity prices are comparatively high and power plants difficult to build.

As currently proposed, the line would begin at American Electric's Amos transmission station in St. Albans, W. Va., and pass through the West Virginia panhandle, north-central Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania to central New Jersey. The 765-kilovolt line would carry 50 percent more capacity than any other power line in the mid-Atlantic and require clearance of 100 feet on each side.

Along the way, it would cross West Virginia's Allegheny Highlands, a resort area with mountains, red spruce forests and vacation homes.

"I would think that if they come near these areas, they're going to run into a lot of opposition," said Judy Rodd, the director of the Charleston, W.Va.-based environmental group, Friends of Blackwater. "People don't like giant power lines."

After that, it would pass through a quilt of hilly dairy farms, Civil War sites, suburban subdivisions and Amish country. It likely will be tested by people who are veterans of fighting power plants or wind farms, and say conservation is the solution to high electricity prices.

"I'll be extremely interested, not only for the aesthetic view, because it's going to run along the mountains, but also for the impact it's going to have on property values," said Rolan O. Clark of Adamstown, Md., who lives near the Doubs substation to which the proposed line would link.

An important first step in the project will be an analysis of the line's service and price benefits by PJM Interconnection, the Valley Forge, Pa.-based company that operates the mid-Atlantic electricity grid. PJM could also recommend an alternate route.

Then, state utility regulators would decide whether the cheaper electricity would offset the loss of land and environmental damage that could result from building the line, state consumer advocates said.

This week, American Electric began seeking federal approval to have ratepayers who benefit from the power line subsidize the cost of the project. And it asked the federal Department of Energy to give the power line's proposed corridor a special designation that raises the possibility that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could override the eminent domain authority of state regulators who oppose the project.

American Electric is one of several power companies that have already petitioned the agency for the designation, provided under the Energy Policy Act approved by Congress.

State consumer advocates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey say it is too early to tell whether the project would benefit ratepayers there. West Virginia's utility consumer advocate, Billy Jack Gregg, said a lot will depend on the siting process. But he said it appears the project would help his state, possibly with new power plants and jobs, and other states with cheaper electricity.

John Hanger, a clean-energy advocate and former utility regulator in Pennsylvania, said people would lose their land for the benefit of the utility. The cheaper, more sensible solution is to build a power plant in New Jersey, he said.

"I'm sure AEP believes that this line will increase its revenue and profits," Hanger said. "But the question is, is that enough? This line must meet the public interest."

Source: http://www.zwire.com/site/n...

FEB 4 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1202-proposed-massive-multistate-power-line-could-test-new-law
back to top