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PATH developers seek delay to study demand

Read the PSC filings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Developers of the proposed PATH power line on Monday asked the state Public Service Commission for a six-month delay in formal hearings on the project, saying the move would allow more study of future electrical demand forecasts in the region.

Such forecasts form the basis for American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy's argument that the $2 billion power line is needed, and critics of the project have increasingly been pointing to data they say undermines the stated purpose for PATH.

Earlier this month, PSC staff attorneys filed papers urging the three-person commission to reject PATH or at least delay hearings and a decision date on the project so that alternatives that could be cheaper and less environmentally damaging could be more thoroughly considered.

On Monday, the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division filed a legal brief in support of the commission staff's general position and then AEP and Allegheny filed their own response and issued a news release outlining their request for a delay.

The PSC has not ruled on the matter.

Currently, the commission is scheduled to hold formal evidentiary hearings on PATH in March 2011 and a final decision by the PSC is set to be issued by July 28, 2011. AEP and Allegheny asked the commission to reschedule formal evidentiary hearings until October 2011 and the date for a PSC final decision until Feb. 9, 2012.

AEP and Allegheny are seeking PSC approval for the West Virginia portions of the 765-kilovolt line -- called the Potomac Appalachian Highline, or PATH -- that would start at the John Amos power plant in Putnam County and run more than 275 miles, into Maryland.

Power company officials say the project is needed to shore up the nation's ailing electrical grid and, as proposed, "minimizes the effect on the natural and human environment."

The project faces strong opposition, though, in part because PSC approval would allow the power company to use eminent domain to obtain rights of way from landowners. Other critics argue that PATH, like the already approved TrAIL power line, is little more than a huge extension cord to allow more pollution-causing coal-fired power to be sent from Appalachia and the Ohio Valley to East Coast population centers.

Also, as the PSC staff motion from earlier this month indicated, opponents of PATH increasingly have been pointing to questions about whether the nation's utility grid managers -- at a private company called PJM -- are fully considering alternatives when they back projects like the PATH power line.

In their Monday filing, AEP and Allegheny lawyers said that they had recently learned that PJM's new 2011 Load Forecast Report would include some projects "that are different" from those in the prior year's report and that those projections "may have an impact on the current" date of June 2015 for when utilities believe the PATH project is needed.

"In view of this development, applicants fully expect that staff and intervenors will urge the commission to require, and that the commission will wish to see, a thorough presentation of how the revised load projections affect the in-service date for the PATH project and applicants' need evidence," the utility lawyers told the PSC.

In its Monday filing, the PSC consumer advocates said they remain concerned about the potential costs of PATH and the impacts those costs would have on consumers. They also noted that the same consulting firm that did "significant work" for the power companies on the PATH project performed PJM's only analysis of the power line's costs.

David Sade, deputy consumer advocate, said his office believes that more detailed study would show that other developments -- including a construction upgrade the Mount Storm-Doubs power line -- would allow PATH to at least "no longer be needed on an imminent basis."

In its earlier filing the PSC staff noted that the Mount Storm-Doubs project is part of proposal that Dominion Power submitted to PJM as a potential alternative to PATH. That proposal included several other power line upgrades and a total price of $620 million, far less than the cost of PATH.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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