The Real PATH Stories
While I was on vacation last week, I managed to scoop all the media about the PJM staff decision to cancel PATH and MAPP. Since then, I have been struggling with computer/Internet woes and have finally gotten back on line.
As Keryn points out, there is not one “real PATH story,” there are hundreds, maybe even thousands. PJM, AEP and Allegheny Energy (now FirstEnergy) wanted to create one PATH story so that they could get their new power line. Thousands of us gathered together to show regulators and politicians that things weren’t quite so simple.
This story in Leesburg Today has its facts all jumbled up (not surprising, few reporters have covered PATH well), but it also includes the following description of two new friends that I made in this fight:
Alfred Ghiorzi and Malcolm Baldwin, both Lovettsville area residents who played a significant role in the Loudoun fight to oppose the line, were elated with the news. It was Ghiorzi who started the move to oppose the application, which was filed in May 2009 in Richmond, according to Baldwin: “He went door to door, telling people what was happening. He was a major factor.” Concerned residents in the Neersville and Lovettsville areas then organized and Baldwin became the leader in the No To Path organization.
“There’s no need,” an elated Ghiorzi said Monday.
Both men cited a combination of factors in the reported decision: decreased demand, economic changes, increased conservation and energy saving measures, planned construction of natural gas power plants in Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware and upgrades to an existing 500kV Dominion Virginia Power line that had a projected more than 60 percent improved efficiency. “That was a critical, clinching factor.” Baldwin said.
And it was the unity of residents in all three states that was the remarkable part of a successful fight, according to Baldwin.
“This is a victory for the citizens who focused on the facts and used the best possible arguments. They didn’t focus on not-in-my-backyard issues or aesthetics, just the question of need—which wasn’t justified from PJM’s own perspective,” he said.
The power of citizen involvement impressed both men.
“We started this thing thinking ‘we don’t have a prayer,’” Baldwin said. “The citizens have prevailed,” Ghiorzi said, noting every one of the PJM models shown by its planning staff on the website confirmed there is sufficient power capacity to meet demand for 15 years. “There are no violations.”
It was the steady willingness to learn and to speak the truth that beat PATH. Malcolm Baldwin’s statement that “We started this thing thinking ‘we don’t have a prayer,’” sums up how all of us started out, as we got more and more angry as we learned more and more about PATH. The Internet, through emails and free blogs, allowed us to talk with each other and teach each other and educate people new to the movement.
Make no mistake, if we hadn’t fought PJM, AEP and Allegheny, PATH would be in operation today. When the power companies applied for certificates of need in 2009, they said that PATH had to be in operation by June 2012. We beat the power companies, and we beat them bad.
Here are some of the turning points in my PATH story:
- In August 2008, shortly after AEP/Allegheny held their “public meetings” essentially in secret across WV, some neighbors of mine organized a public information meeting in Calhoun County. About 200 people showed up, including some of the people who had fought the just-approved TrAIL line. These dedicated activists taught me everything about how transmission lines worked, and how the regulatory system operated. They, and other veterans of the TrAIL fight in East Virginia, were my early teachers in the PATH fight. They were the ones who turned their TrAIL defeat into a PATH victory, because they never gave up.
- At the Calhoun meeting, a group of us committed to helping local citizens in neighboring counties, along what was then thought to be the main PATH route through central WV, hold similar public education meetings. In the following months, I presented at meetings in Gilmer, Lewis and Upshur Counties, all of them attended by more than 100 people. The Upshur meeting had more than 300.
- By the time AEP/Allegheny filed their application for certificate of need at the WV PSC, West Virginians were educated and active. Within two months of the May 2009 application, more than 200 people had filed petitions to intervene in the PATH PSC case. There had been no more than 20 intervenors in the TrAIL case. The PSC was faced with having to accommodate hundreds of people in their hearing process, which they whined about in every order they filed in the case. This number of parties in a PSC case was unprecedented and represented how highly West Virginians valued their rights and their property.
- Then Gov. Manchin had played a major role in salvaging a doomed TrAIL project at the WV PSC. Despite the fact that he repeatedly pledged to stay out of the PATH case (as a result of public outcry from PATH activists), Manchin introduced a bill, late in the 2009 legislative session, to tax electricity flowing through future high voltage transmission lines in WV. This bill, of dubious legality, was designed to create a benefit for WV where none existed in the PATH project. As Manchin had done with TrAIL, he was hoping to head off PSC opposition with this tactic, which would ultimately be paid for by WV rate payers and others in PJM. We mobilized thousands of citizens, and with the support of the WV Environmental Council lobby team, managed to stop Manchin’s tax after it had passed the House. This was a crucial fight, because it allowed us to educate legislators who had originally thought the tax was a good idea. Citizens packed the House Finance Committee’s hearing room during debate on the bill, and legislators who backed Manchin’s tax got an earful in the hallway after the meeting.
- In March of 2009, the Sierra Clubs of MD, WV and East Virginia sponsored a weekend workshop in the Eastern Panhandle that was attended by hundreds of people from all three states. There were presentations on the regulatory system, offshore wind power, the TrAIL case and other important topics. This conference brought us together and made us all realize that we were a powerful force, and we had the facts on our side.
- Before the PATH case, WV law allowed power companies applying to the WV PSC for certificates of need for high voltage transmission lines to only post newspaper notices in counties to be traversed by their lines. Unlike in MD and East Virginia, in WV, land owners who might be forced to give up land for rights of way were never notified individually. As a result of our 2009 victory, we were able to return to the 2010 legislative session and get a bill passed that now required all applicants for high voltage transmission lines to identify affected land owners and to send them individual notices so they could intervene in the PSC case if they wished to.
You will note that my list does not include any of the particulars of the PATH situation at any PSCs or the PJM planning process. That is because all of these entities were far behind the curve on the basic issues of need. In this case, the non-experts were far more knowledgeable than the supposed experts. There was only one point in the regulatory process where a PSC took decisive action that resulted in a significant setback for PATH.
The East Virginia SCC case was slightly more advanced than the cases in WV and MD. The SCC actually began accepting written testimony from intervenors (“respondents” in their terminology) in early fall 2010. A number of these expert witnesses pointed to the fact that there were trends in PJM’s system that were moving against PATH which had not been reflected in the outdated information in the PJM/AEP/Allegheny applications. The SCC moved quickly and ordered PJM to provide the preliminary information from their planning process that they were currently collecting. As it turned out, that information revealed that almost all of the problems that PJM used to justify their support for PATH had disappeared, just as power line opponents had predicted. PJM’s preliminary report eventually led to the withdrawal of the state certificate of need applications in March and April of 2011.
Neither the WV PSC nor the MD PSC showed the determination to get to the facts demonstrated by the East Virginia SCC and their excellent hearing examiner, Alexander Skirpan. Whenever the WV or MD Commissioners had the opportunity to really accomplish something, they bowed to the power companies and gave them everything they wanted.
So all of us have our PATH stories, and they all have happy endings. We forged a powerful movement and made a lot of new friends. Many of us will take our work and knowledge into new areas and new fights. As my wife has often said, “I’ll bet AEP and FirstEnergy really regret stirring up that PATH hornets’ nest. They’ll never be rid of you now.”