Power Transmission Lines

PATH

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) was a boondoggle of a 765kV power line project proposed by American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Energy, which has since been bought by First Energy (FE).

Filing in 2009 with public service commissions in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, energy firms expected to be rubber-stamped as usual. But hundreds of citizens in all three states signed on as “interested parties,” including landowners advised by our Stewards group. This line was clearly not needed, especially with electricity use declining since the economic collapse in 2008. Critical opposition mass was reached and all three cases were finally withdrawn in early 2011. A victory for the little guy, right? An unneeded $2.1 billion project was defeated!

Well, yes, but thanks to FERC, PATH lives on even today as a zombie, relentlessly hungry for ratepayer cash.

What’s FERC? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; it regulates the interstate transmission of energy. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 – crafted, if you remember, by Dick Cheney’s energy task force in secret meetings with big energy corporations – allows FERC to provide financial incentives for large power transmission projects, guaranteeing a hefty profit on their investment even if the line is never built. The return on equity rate for PATH started off at a whopping 14.3% but in October 2011 this rate was lowered (hah!) to 12.4%. PATH continues to this day – almost two years after withdrawing their applications – to seek FERC approval for passing costs on to 51 million electric ratepayers in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

As of the end of 2012 PATH has collected over $95 million from ratepayers for PATH, and the total is expected to climb to $225 million before PATH is done. Fortunately for all of us 51 million consumers, two West Virginians, Keryn Newman of Shepherdstown and Alison Haverty of Chloe, have filed FERC challenges to the PATH zombie totaling $5.7 million. They question the prudence of claimed expenses for lobbying, advertising, public relations advocacy, membership and donation expenses, as instances where PATH recovered more than they actually paid for services. FERC ok’d part of the rate increase, but opponents won a hearing on “prudence” if negotiations fail.

More PATH background information is available below.

March 10th 2011 PATH Update

Well, after another year of wrangling, including a new application with the VA-SCC, PATH has thrown in the towel and withdrawn their applications in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Bill Howley has a good writeup about PATH's collapse on his always-excellent Power Line blog.

February 21st 2010 PATH Update

On Wednesday January 27th, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (VA-SCC) ruled in favor of PATH-VA's request to withdraw their application for PATH. PATH-VA has said that new data indicates that PATH will not be needed until after 2014 and that they will reapply in VA, but not until at least the third quarter of this year. PATH companies continue, however, to press on in MD and WV.

The power companies' PATH website PathTransmission.com is back up, after having been down for awhile. Some pages are still "Under Construction," but at least the maps all seem to be there unchanged from when the site went down.

PATH Land Agents and How to Avoid Them

If you own property in West Virginia that is on or near the proposed PATH Right-Of-Way (ROW), you may soon be, or may have already been, contacted by one of the PATH Right-Of-Way Agents ("ROW Agents" or "land men") asking for permission to come onto your property to do survey work. They may ask you to "option" future easement rights for a cash payment now. Be very wary of these agents -- they may seem very friendly, and they are supposed to follow a Code of Conduct:

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However, the agents are looking out for the power companies, not you, and there have been reports that they are not always following their Code. Be aware that "survey" work may not be just driving in some stakes and marking some trees, it could be a 40-foot wide "sight line" clear-cut through your property.

You do NOT have to let anyone onto your property or sign any paperwork you are given by an Agent. The power companies do not have any right to be on your property at all unless and until the PSC grants them a "Certificate of Convenience and Necessity." This decision is not due until February 24, 2011, a year from now. If the PSC grants them their Certificate, they will have the right to get an easement on your property in order to survey the land, clear it, build the towers, and string the cables. At that time you can negotiate a price with them for the easement. The value of this easement goes up once the project is approved -- the LAST land-owner to sign an agreement usually gets MORE than the first.

Some landowners have told the power companies and the WV-PSC that they do not want to even be contacted about land rights before this project gets approved. If you wish to do the same, we have a Notice To Deny Right-Of-Way Access form that you can use:

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You will need to send a copy to the WV-PSC and a copy to PATH. If you have already given PATH permission to survey on your property but now regret that decision, you can send in a Notice To Withdraw Right-Of-Way Access Permission form:

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Eminent Domain Process

If PATH gets approved and you do not eventually agree on a price for the easement on your land, or you refuse to negotiate at all, you can be taken to court using the power of Eminent Domain. In this case, you can demand a jury trial where you can present your case, get the power companies to pay your lawyer fees, and have a jury of 12 of your fellow landowners from your county decide how much you will be paid for the PATH easement across your land.

Last summer, WV attorney Charles Printz gave a presentation to the Berkeley County, WV Farm Bureau about how to fight for your rights under West Virginia's laws concerning eminent domain and land condemnation. You can view this excellent 20 minute lecture that explains the court process here: viddler.com/v/7bf2dc9c.

January 5th 2010 PATH Update

As promised, in late December PATHco re-applied to MD-PSC. In a completely unexpected move, however, they concurrently petitioned VA-PSC to withdraw the VA application! They now say that it will be at least the 3rd quarter of 2010 until they file again in VA.

The Power Line blog, as always, was right on top of the situtation:

The VA SCC held its hearing this morning [December 30th 2009] AEP/Allegheny's motion to withdraw its application in East Virginia.

Intervenors spoke up loudly and forcefully, demanding that the power companies be prevented from filing a new application at any time in the future and that AEP/Allegheny be required to pay all intervenors' expenses for the case to date, due to the frivolous nature of the PATH application.

Intervenors appear to be quite correct in their assessment that AEP/Allegheny's PATH applications are frivolous. By midsummer 2009, PJM Interconnection had all the information that the VA SCC required them to include in their need assessment for PATH, yet PJM, and AEP/Allegheny, failed to update their MD/WV/VA PATH applications. Now that this information has been incorporated into PJM's calculations, we find that PATH won't be needed in 2014 to prevent all the terrible things the power companies were crying about.

December 2009 PATH Update

To apply for State approval of PATH, AEP and Allegheny created a dizzying array of shell companies - all operating as members of the Regional Transmission Operator PJM Interconnection - that we will collectively call PATHco. They filed for approval with the WV Public Service Commission (WV-PSC), the VA State Corporation Commission (VA-SCC), and the MD-PSC in Spring 2009. They claim that PATH is needed to prevent a variety of electrical grid problems in the future. A problem for them is that electricity use has been declining, especially since the economic collapse in 2008. They have already changed their predictions more than once, and, based on filings with WV-PSC and VA-PSC, will do so yet again. Their numbers are not adding up.

So if electricity demand is going down - and many experts think that it will take many years to recover, if it ever does - why build this massive new power line? Why now? The answer, as it so often seems to be, is greed.

Thanks to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC - see below), PATHco is guaranteed a whopping 14.3% profit on every dollar they spend on PATH, even if PATH is never built. The lawyers, the helicopter rides for reporters, the TV ads, the land purchases, the surveying - including, of course, the actual construction costs should it get approved - all of this money is recouped, plus 14.3%, from us, their captive electricity customers in the 11 states in which AEP and Allegheny operate.

It gets worse. If PATH does get built, it will connect AEP's dirty, cheap, coal-fired power plants up and down the Ohio River valley - including the John Amos Power Plant where PATH starts - to the lucrative East Coast market. Angry yet? Yeah, us too.

Path Gets Snagged

The regulatory process has not been kind to PATH, thanks in large part to an actively engaged citizenry.

In WV, after the TrAIL line was approved, warnings about the upcoming PATH case spread over backyards, farm fences, and the internet. In just a few months, the WV-PSC had received over 200 petitions to intervene (formally participate) in the PATH case. [Full Disclosure: Two of our Officers are intervenors in this case.] This has provided both an unprecedented challenge to the PSC in managing the case, as well as a golden opportunity for citizens' concerns and opinions to be heard.

In MD, the intervenors have not yet had a chance. In early September 2009 MD-PSC rejected the PATH application because the PATHco shell company on the application is not a Public Utility under MD law. PATHco dragged their heels about refiling in MD, brazenly contemplating bypassing the State Commissions altogether and going directly to FERC for approval.

Meanwhile, since there was no longer an active MD application pending, VA-SCC and WV-PSC Staff made motions to dismiss the case, requesting that PATHco file new applications in all three states after the new electricity use data due out in February 2010 could be incorporated in the filings.

In response to the staff motions PATHco promised to re-file in MD by December 31st 2009, so the VA-SCC has decided to proceed on schedule, with a final hearing date of January 19th 2010. WV, on the other hand, has delayed the case by 8 months, with the evidentiary hearing now scheduled from October 19th 2010 through November 2nd 2010. The final WV-PSC decision is due by February 24th 2011.

What's Next?

In VA, only the evidentiary hearing is left on the agenda, but MD is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the PSC approval process just getting started and the opportunity for citizens to petition to intervene in that case. There will also be public hearings to attend. Our Take Action page has some pointers on getting involved in the regulatory process.

In WV, we now have an additional 8 months to keep writing letters - to the editors of our local papers, the Charleston papers, the PSC, and Governor Manchin. We need our State legislators to resist the Governor's unconstitutional "transmission tax" scheme to charge other states for electricity coming out of WV so the PSC can claim that WV benefits from PATH. We also need to revise the WV-PSC process to be more even-handed for ordinary citizens. In 2009, in response to inadequacies in the TrAIL case, the PSC Siting Reforms Bill was introduced; it did not get to a vote, but a similar bill will almost surely be introduced at the 2010 regular legislative session.

The PATH Players

Electric Companies and Grid Operators

Allegheny Energy is a utility holding company that owns these regulated utilities, doing business as Allegheny Power: West Penn Power Company (PA); Monongahela Power Company (WV); and The Potomac Edison Company (MD, VA, and WV).

American Electric Power (AEP) owns nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. AEP also owns the nation's largest electricity transmission system, and utility units including Appalachian Power (VA and WV).

PJM Interconnection is a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia. Allegheny and AEP are members of PJM.

Regulatory Authorities

The following State Public Utility Commissions all regulate energy rates and utility siting within their states. An application for PATH was filed with each of these commissions in May 2009.

MD Public Service Commission (MD-PSC) - No Current case. On 09/09/09, MD-PSC rejected PATHco's initial application due to the fact that Potemac Edision's shell company PATH Allegheny Transmission Company, LLC (PATH-Allegheny) was not an "electric company" under Maryland statute. After some delay, Potomac Edison eventually said that it intends to file a new application for PATH with MD-PSC by 12/31/09.

VA State Corporation Commission (VA-SCC) - Case Number PUE-2009-00043. On 10/19/09 the a VA-SCC Staff filed a Motion to Dismiss the PATH application on the grounds that the lack of an active application in MD rendered the project incomplete. On 11/11/09, the VA-SCC hearing Examiner rejected that motion and stuck with the original schedule of the evidentiary hearing starting on 01/19/10.

WV Public Service Commission (WV-PSC) - Case Number 09-0770-E-CN. On 10/28/09, WV-PSC Staff also filed a Motion to Dismiss, citing the lack of a MD application, as well requesting more up-to-date electrial need and use data. On 11/24/09 the WV-PSC ordered that the case not be dismissed but rather "tolled" or delayed. The new schedule calls for the evidentiary hearing to run from 10/18/10 through 11/02/10, with the final PSC decision due by 02/24/11.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates the interstate transmission of energy. FERC claims that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows them to overturn a State Commission rejection of proposed power lines by considering regional benefits that the individual states cannot. This interpretation was rejected in February 2009 by the U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, but the electric companies want to keep testing this authority to enable them to bypass the states entirely.

PATH Resources

The State Commision websites linked to above have all the documents related to PATH available online to the public. Their sites are a bit hard to navigatem but stck with it and you will find reams of information.

The power companies' information site is PathTransmission.com. It has maps, formal filing documents, and lots of pro-PATH propoganda.

The Power Line blog from Calhoun County is a great source of information on fighting PATH. It has a number of summary pages on almost every aspect of the case against PATH in WV.

Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) has a very useful web page titled Transmission Lines: Getting the Benefits Without the Impacts. It has information on defeating bad transmission line projects, electro magnetic fields (EMF) & health, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) bachstop authority, and more.

Stop PATH WV is a Jefferson County based grassroots movement of ordinary citizens who object to the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline because it is not needed, it is not wanted, it is destructive to West Virginia, and it is an obstacle to meaningful reform of U.S. energy policy.

The MarylandEnergyReport blog has the scoop on fighting PATH in MD, as well as info on many other energy-related topics got Marylanders.

Citizens Against Kemptown Electric Substation (C.A.K.E.S) is a Frederick County, Maryland citizens group determined to prevent the highest voltage electric substation ever built in the United States that is proposed to be built in the middle of our established Mount Airy/Monrovia neighborhoods as the end-point of PATH.

No To PATH is a Loudoun County, Virginia citizens group determined to prevent the PATH power line.

January 2009: PATHs and TrAILS Carve up Potomac Highlands

Downstate coal barons holding West Virginia's political reins seem bound and determined to turn the remote, beautiful Potomac Highlands into the same dreary energy colony that has kept southern West Virginia poor and bleak for decades. Instead of getting serious about conserving electricity with green construction retrofits and community design, truly controlling coal-burning pollution, or developing renewable power sources closer to population centers, they want to burn more West Virginia coal and build huge power lines across our mountains, to ship electricity to the East Coast. The Potomac Highlands is being assaulted by TWO major power lines: "PATH" and "TrAIL." Power company information sites are at www.aptrailinfo.com and www.pathtransmission.com.

TrAIL, or Trans Allegheny Interstate Line, would be a 500 Kilovolt line running from southwestern Pennsylvania through Monongalia, Preston, northern Tucker Grant and Hardy Counties, and southern Hampshire County before crossing to a substation in Meadow Brook, VA. It has been approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission and the Virginia State Corporation Commission. On November 13, 2008 it was approved by Pennsylvania despite negative recommendations by administrative judges and consumer officials there. New administration federal regulations designed to speed up power line construction, allow power companies to recoup costs of acquiring land even if the line is never built. That means they can go ahead and take land in one state even if the other states turn it down.

The well-heeled citizens group Piedmont Environmental Council in Virginia's nine-county Blue Ridge area filed a notice of appeal Nov. 5 with the Virginia Supreme Court. They're citing a ruling by Pennsylvania administrative law judges that the powerlines are all about utility profits, not true energy needs. The companies didn't bother to study conservation, demand-side management, power generating alternatives and the harm to land and its owners before proposing the new lines. The Pennsylvania judges confirm that the true impetus for TrAIL is to transport cheaper coal-fired generation from west to east and site new generation in remote areas where there are not as many people to fight it, but where it is more environmentally harmful and less energy-efficient.

PATH is the same thing-transporting electricity from coalfields to the East Coast. American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy will be applying to WV PSC to build a single 765-kilovolt (kV) transmission line from AEP's Amos substation near St. Albans, W.Va., west of the state capital in Charleston, all the way across West Virginia to a new substation near Kemptown, southeast of Frederick, Md. A new mid-point substation would be built in eastern Grant County, northern Hardy County or Hampshire County. The power line was moved away from the Martinsburg area, where it would have impacted Civil War battlefields such as Antietam in Sharpsburg, MD.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has passed resolutions against PATH and TrAIL, as has WV Highlands Conservancy. Friends of the Cacapon River has started a petition, demanding that PATH, if built, should follow the route of TrAIL or an existing earlier power line and not disturb more of our mountains and farmlands.

January 2008: Electric Avenue - 240 Miles of High-Voltage Ugly?

Allegheny Energy is continuing with its attempt to cut another high-voltage power line over our mountains and through our communities. Don't let their quaint name — TrAIL, short for Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line — fool you. This proposed high-voltage powerline that would slash through the Potomac Highlands has mushroomed from a backyard nuisance into a national environmental controversy. In November, environmental and historic preservation groups asked for a rehearing of a federal decision letting new high voltage lines criss-cross the northeast US corridor from West Virginia as far as Ohio and New York, even where the states find they're not needed.

These corridors are based on a new provision attached by Congress to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which allows electric companies to condemn right of ways using federal eminent domain powers in areas that are found to be electrically congested. These proposals provide a new market for some of the nation's oldest coal fired power plants — the same plants that have been cited for air pollution, and which demand coal, much of which is mined by mountaintop removal.

The land use problems add more ugliness to this already disturbing picture. Under these definitions, the entire Northeast is subject to condemnation to accommodate new power lines — even national forests, Civil War battlefields, wildlife areas and other places that people have worked for decades to preserve. Among the protesters in the Potomac Highlands is a Buddhist monastery in eastern Hampshire County, Bhavana Society, where the monks value their peace and quiet.

Chris Miller of the Piedmont Environmental Council, one of the organizations filing for rehearing, said, "In designating the first corridors, the Department of Energy failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act. These environmental laws are important tools to protect human health, ecosystems and community values." See the PEC web site for the latest news.

"The power companies have told the Department of Energy they want these transmission line corridors stretching all the way to Ohio and West Virginia because of 'increasingly strict environmental controls' along the East Coast. But we can't allow power companies to exploit long-distance corridors in an attempt to literally run away from our most progressive environmental laws" said Cale Jaffe, Staff Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"DOE's sweeping decision dramatically undermines state efforts to address global warming and other important environmental problems," said Mark Brownstein, an energy policy expert at Environmental Defense. "New interstate transmission lines are like superhighways for the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants, and the federal government has made it a whole lot easier to put one in your backyard.

"Rather than take the time to study alternatives and work with states to craft a balanced energy future, DOE has rushed to a decision that favors big coal. There are better ways to do transmission planning, and we are hoping that DOE goes back to the drawing board and works with us, and others, to do it right."

Governments of Pennsylvania and Virginia have filed petitions for rehearing. However, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, in a State Journal article on Nov. 1, came out in favor of the powerline due to construction and power industry jobs he says will be created. Manchin has a coal industry background. However, Capon Valley powerline opponents have advice from retiring PSC ombudsman Billy Jack Gregg, and have organized several information and protest meetings. Second-home realtor Charlie Winfree points out that the powerlines harm West Virginia's growing real estate industry.

"We should all be ashamed to even be considering more long-term heavy investment in coal when we now know it's most likely the biggest culprit in changing our climate, our children's climate and the extermination of many species, quite possibly our own,"writes Winfree, who designated half the acreage in his development near Keyser as nature preserve. "Yes, parts of the WV economy may seem to depend on it; just as part of Colombia's economy depends on cocaine, and part of Afghanistan's economy depends on heroin poppies." Comparing these addictions might sound extreme, but note that scientists report that coal burning is contributing to the melting of the polar icecaps. We need to break the fossil fuel habit now.

January 2007: Wild and Wonderful West Virginia Beware: 500 KV Power Line Proposed

Northern Virginia horse country is up in arms over Dominion and Allegheny Power's proposal for a new 500-kV transmission line, a project they have dubbed "TrAIL" — the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line. Late in 2006 over 4,000 citizens, including actor Robert Duvall of Faquier County, and U.S. Representatives Frank Wolf and Tom Davis, turned out at hearings to oppose the power line . The proposed line would have towers up to 177 feet tall and would damage publicly held open space, rural historic districts, open space easements, and the local economy. Piedmont Environmental Council put up weather balloons to show the route through Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Prince William, and Warren Counties in Virginia.

However, according to a map at Allegheny's TrAIL website, a much longer portion would run through West Virginia's southern Hampshire County, northern Grant County (tying in with Mt. Storm power plant), the wild tip of western Maryland and Preston County before going on to the Pittsburgh area. Allegheny Power is the same utility that sold Blackwater Canyon to a private timber firm while the state was negotiating to protect it.

If actors and Congressmen are opposing it in Virginia, it can't be good for us ordinary folks in West Virginia either. PEC contends that the power companies haven't studied the alternative of building clean power stations closer to metropolitan areas — they'd rather cut 100-foot swaths through pristine mountains and farms to build a new line.

A local citizens group has formed to fight this proposed powerline. The Capon Valley Coalition's website has all the ongoing and gory details of their fight.