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PATH power line appears to be dead

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The PATH power line is expected to be dealt a death blow later this month, when the regional electrical grid managers at PJM Interconnection recommend that the $2 billion project is no longer needed.

Applications for the PATH transmission line had been withdrawn more than a year ago, after staff at PJM and the West Virginia Public Service Commission questioned the project.

On Wednesday, PJM revealed that its staff would recommend that PATH and another project, the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, or MAPP, be removed from the region's long-term transmission infrastructure improvement plans.

PJM staff will make their recommendation Thursday at a committee meeting and then Aug. 24 to the full board of PJM, a private agency that runs the regional grid.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Valley Forge, Pa.-based PJM cited reductions in the projected growth in electrical demand, driven by a slow economy, and the additional new generation capacity as factors that eliminated the need for the new transmission lines.

Last year, a separate PJM analysis showed a diminished need for the projects, but the agency decided to wait on a new forecast of peak electrical use, among other factors, before making a final decision.

American Electric Power and FirstEnergy had been promoting the 765 kilovolt Potomac Appalachian Highline, or PATH, which would start at the John Amos power plant in Putnam County and run more than 275 miles into Maryland. The MAPP project is a 152-mile transmission line to connect southern Maryland with the Delmarva Peninsula.

"Of course, the PATH project has been in suspension for about a year and a half now, because PJM's evaluations have been showing less of a need for it because of the slowing economy and other factors," said AEP spokeswoman Jeri Matheney. "This final evaluation indicating there is no need for the project for the next 15 years comes as no surprise to us, and accordingly, we will close the project" 

Power company officials had argued that PATH was needed to shore up the nation's ailing electrical grid and, as proposed, "minimizes the effect on the natural and human environment."

The project faced strong opposition, though, in part because the PSC approval would allow the power company to use eminent domain to obtain rights of way from landowners. Critics argued that PATH, like the already approved TrAIL power line, was 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 also cited new data that questioned the need for the project. Last year, the PSC's staff joined in doing so, arguing it was "ludicrous" for the commission to even hold hearings on PATH without first fully examining other options, such as improving existing transmission lines.

In a new analysis released Wednesday, PJM said all previously identified thermal overloads that PATH was aimed to fix have already been resolved, and that no other overloads on its 500 kilovolt facilities were expected between 2013 and 2027.

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


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