PATH at Year’s End 2010

So, where do we stand with PATH at the end of 2010?

Here is a list of what we know about PATH at this point –

  • Despite claims by the secret Cheney energy task force that state and federal regulators have been slowing down transmission line projects, AEP/Allegheny and PJM Interconnection have been the only parties in the state regulatory cases that have asked for repeated delays.  In WV, AEP/Allegheny just asked for their fourth delay.  The original WV case deadline was June 2010.  The most recent WV delay requested by the power companies would move that deadline back to February 2012.
  • The first independent analysis presented in any of the three states’ PATH cases resulted in a withdrawal of the PATH application in East VA and delays in the other two states.  Experts Hyde Merrill and George Loehr revealed that the emergency power transfer calculations (CETO values) that PJM is using to generate supposed problems on the existing grid are significantly higher than any other CETO values used by any other regional transmission organizations in the US for similar planning.  From Hyde Merrill’s testimony:

PJM’s planning studies do not justify the PATH line. The vast majority of alleged reliability issues that are presented in support of the PATH line are not based on any modeling or contingency analyses as NERC requires. None of the alleged violations is based on reasonable assumptions regarding the need for power transfer from western to eastern PJM — i.e. reasonable Capacity Emergency Transfer Objective (“CETO”) values. And even if the alleged violations were based on credible analysis — which they are not — none of them creates a present need to build the proposed PATH line. Rejecting PATH now will allow time to develop far better alternatives for the evolution of the power system within PJM’s boundaries.

  • Oh, and about those alternatives — there are now two viable alternatives to PATH, the Liberty project, which would involve building a new transmission line only through PA, and Dominion Virginia Power’s Alternative 1, a rebuilding of existing 500 kV lines that is 1/3 the claimed cost of PATH, involves no new rights of way and would move much faster through the regulatory process.  PJM and the WV PSC have already approved a partial project that represents about one half of Alternative 1.  The WV PSC approved the Mt. Storm to Doubs rebuild two days after its engineering staff recommended approval.  No slow down here for projects that are really needed.
  • PJM Interconnection has proved that it is not the objective judge of transmission needs in its service region.  It rigged analysis of the Liberty project by hiring Burns and McDonnell, a firm with a multi-million dollar contract for PATH, to assess the viability of Liberty.  Needless to say, Burns and McDonnell said PATH was better.  Conflict of interest works wonders.
  • PJM Interconnection’s only claim that PATH is superior to Dominion’s Alternative 1 is that PJM VP for Planning Steve Herling doesn’t believe Dominion can complete the Mt. Storm to Doubs rebuild project by 2015, as Dominion has stated repeatedly.  Herling has never presented a factual basis for his claim.
  • Despite PJM’s initial claims in PATH applications in MD, East VA and WV that electricity demand was rising dramatically into the foreseeable future, PJM has consistently reduced demand projections every year since the PATH applications were prepared.  Last year, PJM’s “experts” guaranteed an economic recovery that would restore their demand predictions.  Just last week, their most recent demand estimate reduction was based in part on no economic recovery through 2016.
  • East VA citizen intervenor Al Ghiorzi has pointed out that if PJM’s cost analysis for Liberty were used for PJM’s cost estimate for PATH, PATH’s estimate would not be $2.1 billion, but $3.22 billion.  Mr. Ghiorzi has also pointed out that the existing Mt. Storm to Doubs transmission line has repeatedly suffered exactly the kind of “devastating” problems that PJM claims will cause “blackouts and brownouts” if PATH isn’t built, and PJM’s transmission system has handled these problems with little or no fuss, every time they have occurred.
  • A combination of good government leadership and strong community action have caused the Frederick County, MD county government to reject the siting of the monster substation planned as the eastern end of PATH.  Right now, PATH has no eastern connection to PJM’s grid.  There will likely be years of court activity as the power companies sue Frederick zoning officials and the MD PSC does the same.
  • The federal Environmental Impact Statement process for PATH has come to a complete halt, and the National Park Service has provided no information about when it will start again.  The next stage in the process is designed to consider alternatives to having PATH cross federal land.  Dominion’s Alternative 1 involves the creation of NO new rights of way across federal land.
  • Despite the fact that AEP/Allegheny/PJM have been screaming for two years that PATH must be built NOW or we will all be living in the dark, AEP/Allegheny/PJM have been the only ones responsible for constant delays in the PATH project.
  • As WV citizens Keryn Newman and Ali Haverty have documented, AEP/Allegheny are not satisfied with the fact that their state and federal lobbyists wrote the rules for forcing electrical consumers to pay for PATH, whether it is built or not.  Keryn and Ali have shown that the power companies are cheating on the rules that they wrote.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is right now in the process of reducing AEP/Allegheny’s guaranteed return on equity for the PATH project from its outrageous 14.3%.  In another month or two, PATH will not be as profitable for AEP/Allegheny as they originally thought.

To sum up:

PJM’s predictions have been consistently wrong.  PJM’s planning procedures for future reliability are not consistent with national standards or other RTOs’ practices and methods.  PJM will cheat to keep other alternatives to PATH from being considered.  The federal EIS process has stopped.  Siting for the Mt. Airy substation will be tied up in court for years.  PJM is now the main force delaying the PATH project.  AEP/Allegheny’s 14.3% guaranteed profit will be cut.  Dominion’s Alternative 1 is clearly the best way for PJM to resolve its problems, even using PJM’s own flawed planning methods.  Alternative 1 is 1/3 the cost of PATH, involves no new rights of way and can be approved and built much more quickly.

So if PJM/AEP/Allegheny think we desperately need to fix all of PJM’s problems, why are they clinging to a PATH project that will probably take a decade to approve and another three years to build, when all of Dominion’s Alternative 1 can probably be built by 2016?  If you are in such a hurry, guys, let’s get on with it.  Drop PATH.  Approve the rest of Alternative 1 and let’s git ‘er done.

Or is this what is really going on?