A new high-voltage electrical transmission line would stretch for 280 miles across West Virginia, from the outskirts of Charleston to just beyond the state's Eastern Panhandle, under a proposal made public Friday by American Electric Power and Allegheny Power.
If approved by the state Public Service Commission - as well as regulators in Virginia and Maryland - the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH, would cross a dozen West Virginia counties and cost $1.8 billion.
Power company officials said 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 PATH project is vital to the reliability of the electricity grid serving this region," said Michael G. Morris, president of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP.
"We understand the concerns about the impact of transmission lines and will work with the states and landowners to address concerns," Morris said, "but it is critical that we reinforce the transmission infrastructure to ensure we can continue to supply reliable electrical service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
However, PATH promises to face an even bigger fight than the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL. That project, a 500-kilovolt line across Northern West Virginia, was approved by the PSC in August 2008. The West Virginia Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by the Sierra Club environmental group.
Weeks before the formal application for PATH was filed, dozens of residents had already filed objections with the PSC. The state Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy announced opposition to the project.
"For West Virginians, PATH is primarily about two coal-based electrical power companies combining their efforts to cause to be mined and burned even more coal through mountaintop removal and other strip mining methods," said Frank Young, chairman of the Conservancy's power line subcommittee.
PATH, a 765-kV line, has been in the works for more than three years, since AEP proposed its I-765 project, which included a much longer stretch of transmission line reaching into New Jersey. For now, though, the company is seeking regulatory approval only for the 280-mile section that starts northwest of the John Amos Power Plant near Winfield, Putnam County, and ends at a proposed new substation at Kemptown in Frederick County, Md.
Maps unveiled Friday morning show the proposed route cutting across northern Kanawha County and through parts of Roane and Calhoun counties before running through the middle of Braxton County north of Sutton. From there, the proposed route turns northeast across Upshur and Barbour counties. Then, it turns east and cuts across Tucker County and the northern edge of the Monongahela National Forest, and then across Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties.