PATH power line put on hold
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- American Electric Power said Monday it will withdraw applications for state approval to build the PATH power line across much of West Virginia, after the region's electric grid management agency recommended that the $2 billion project be put on hold. PJM Interconnection, a private agency that runs the region's grid, decided Friday to direct AEP and its PATH partner, FirstEnergy, to "suspend efforts" on the project.
The 765-kilovolt Potomac Appalachian Highline would start at the John Amos power plant in Putnam County and run more than 275 miles into Maryland.
PJM cited new forecasts that show the increased demand for electricity slowing, in large part because of the nation's continued economic problems. PJM said the slower demand pushes back the date when PATH might be needed to cure electrical-transmission reliability problems.
Terry Boston, president of PJM, said his organization plans a more detailed analysis of future demand -- and the potential role of PATH -- as part of its annual transmission review, expected to be completed in the fall.
"This action, however, does not, at this time, constitute a directive by PJM to the sponsoring Transmission Owners to cancel or abandon the PATH project," Boston said in a prepared statement. "PJM will complete this more rigorous analysis of the PATH project and other transmission requirements and then report the results to stakeholders when it is available."
Monday's move comes after a decision by the West Virginia Public Service Commission in early January to delay until October hearings on the West Virginia portion of PATH. The project's developers also have been seeking approvals in Virginia and Maryland.
The January PSC ruling was in response to a request by the power companies for a delay to allow more thorough study by PJM, but the power companies were themselves responding to a request by PSC staff attorneys that the commissioners throw out the project in favor of less expensive and environmentally damaging alternatives.
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. Critics say 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.
Increasingly, PATH opponents are citing new data that question the need for the project. Among other developments, PATH opponents cite the decision by Dominion Energy to rebuild its aging Mount Storm-Doubs power line, concerns about which were among the justifications for TrAIL and even more so for PATH.
In a regulatory filing Monday, AEP told the Public Service Commission the company still believes "that underlying system weakness eventually will require backbone transmission projects to ensure the future stability of the regional transmission grid."
Michael G. Morris, AEP's chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement, "While we are certainly disappointed by the suspension of PATH and the uncertainties created by the PJM planning process, we do support a thorough and detailed analysis of the need for the project.
"We remain convinced that the project will be needed and plan to move forward with it when PJM completes its review."
In arguing for PATH, developers have said PJM directed AEP and Allegheny Energy to build the power line. However, timetables for the project's completion have slipped repeatedly, from 2012 to the most recent date of 2015.
On Monday, PJM said subsequent analysis has shown the electrical-reliability problems PATH was to fix have moved several years into the future because of reduced growth in demand.
PJM also cited "evolving public policies" related to renewable energy and questions about future environmental regulations as "diminishing the robustness" of its current demand forecasts.
"PJM is basically admitting what we have said from the start -- that there are better and cheaper alternatives to building a $2 billion transmission line," said Abigail Dillen, an Earthjustice lawyer who has been fighting PATH. "Demand response and other clean-energy initiatives are working, so let's not rush to build a terribly expensive project that only entrenches dependence on dirty coal plants."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.