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WaPo PATHetic Again

December 31, 2009
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As we have come to expect, the Washington Post did a horrible job covering the collapse of the PATH case in East Virginia.  The Post’s writer repeated his past cliches about opponents being NIMBYs concerned only about “scenic views.”  And the editor attached a headline stating that the PATH application had been withdrawn in VA, quite simply a false statement.

If you have the misfortune of going to the Post “article,” go directly to the comments.  You will learn many more facts there.  Here is an extended quote from a commenter AppDev (who I believe is a friend of WV PATH opponents who lives in MD) :

Later Wednesday, Dec. 30, the PATH Web site showed up as entirely offline, with a message saying it is being revised. A mystery that Mr. Fahrenthold did nothing to resolve is why American Electric Power, Allegheny Power and their partners would act with dispatch to keep a Maryland application active but then try to shut down one in Virginia.

One possibility is a change in plans to avoid northern Virginia. In its current form PATH is a weird fit with the power network, as it is to be augmented by the Trans-Allegheny project. However, the original form of the PATH project, known as I-765, has a far clearer objective, carrying power all the way to New Jersey.

Another possibility concerns the strong case presented by opponents in Virginia. Withdrawing the current PATH application in Virginia handily severs a hearing record that includes adverse testimony from expert witnesses offered in October, 2009.

The essence of the testimony was that regional transmission supervisor PJM Interconnection, ignoring its responsibilities, has promoted coal-fired power generators AEP and Allegheny at unfair expense to other interests. The testimony has been summarized by Community & Environmental Defense Services of Owings Mills, MD, available at http://ceds.org/PATHWV/PATHExpertWitnessTestimony.pdf.

Expert testimony indicated that the PATH project, promoted on the basis of reliability and security, would instead reduce reliability and security compared with other approaches. Many examples of inadequate analysis were cited. PJM was shown to have cooked the books to predict “reliability criteria violations” that weaved erratically from year to year. Virginia would have found it difficult to approve the application and, had it done so, would probably have faced potent legal challenges.

As pointed out in expert testimony, the PATH project was organized so that its cost would be shared by all power users in the PJM region. Because it would transmit power from sparsely populated western parts of the region, it would subsidize power generation located there at the expense of generation located near the main centers of use, in the eastern and central parts of the region.

System reliability is improved by locating power sources near centers of use rather than transporting power over long lines, with their potential for critical failure. One such new source, called out in testimony, is an advanced nuclear unit planned for Calvert Cliffs, MD, now scheduled for 2016, to produce on average about 1.3 GW, or about two-thirds of the 2.0 GW expected to be transmitted over the PATH line. Other advanced nuclear units are planned for Bell Bend, PA, and North Ana, VA, although they are not as far along.

New power sources in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia will probably eliminate all need for the PATH project and therefore curtail eastward expansion of markets for coal-fired power from the Ohio valley, For that reason AEP and Allegheny might obviously want to rush the PATH project through if they can, before new power-plants are built to the east of theirs.

Here is another comment from AppDev:

Mr. Fahrenthold [the Post writer] is focused only on local readers. Actually it is clear that the entire PATH project is dead and gone. The documents have disappeared from the PATH Web site, http://www.pathtransmission.com, just as though they were never there. You can still see a map at http://conserveland.org/pp/Transmission/path, maintained by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

What happens to the plan by Dominion Power for a 500 KV, 65-mile line through Loudoun and Frederick Counties? That line, drawing power from the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, was approved by the Virginia Corporation Commission in October, 2008, and recently upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court [James Hohmann, Virginia court allows Dominion's controversial power line, Washington Post, November 6, 2009, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/05/AR2009110503666.html]. According to the Post, Dominion Power “warned of rolling blackouts” and said the line was “critical to provide electricity to the area’s growing population.” Have the lights gone dim?

As AppDev points out, there was never a need for the PATH line, and there never will be.  I have created links for the URLs in these comments so you can go directly to the references AppDev provides.

Here is a link to the expert testimony that transmission engineer Hyde Merrill filed in the East Virginia case in October. It is Merrill’s testimony that prompted the VA SCC Hearing Examiner to order PJM Interconnection to revise its goofy computer simulations and resulted in AEP/Allegheny’s motion to withdraw its VA application.  There is more information on the need issue and the independent engineers who testified about PJM’s bogus analysis here and here.

If you would like to see a pretty decent, and accurate, press account of yesterday’s hearing at the VA SCC, you can read Charleston, WV-based Brian Farkas’ story for the Associated Press here.

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