The PATH Collapse — A Closer Look

I have deliberately held off writing about PJM’s scuttling of PATH in the 2011 RTEP process, and the motions for withdrawal in MD, WV and East Virginia.  I wanted to discuss the possibilities with friends and colleagues before I offered any of my own thoughts.  Here are some tentative observations based on what we know now.

AEP/FE will have to start all over again in WV if they want to build a new PATH project.  This means that all potentially affected land owners will be notified personally and will have an opportunity to intervene in any future PSC case.  The changes brought about by our 2010 SB614 victory have insured that any future WV PSC case will be much more democratic than the old PATH case.

For the first time in five years, PJM Interconnection will not be specifying a required start date for PATH, meaning that they cannot justify the need for a new transmission line like PATH within their current 15 year planning horizon.  The reasons that PJM gave in their press release, downward revisions in peak demand projections and increasing demand management by utilities, are only two of about ten reasons why PATH cannot meet even PJM’s rigged standards.

The PATH process has revealed that far from being some neutral “manager” of the transmission grid, PJM is a cartel of the region’s largest power companies which AEP/FE used to provide a front for their Project Mountaineer project.  Project Mountaineer strategists, including AEP CEO Mike Morris, stated clearly that they would use “reliability” and PJM’s planning process as a smokescreen to push through their business agenda to move coal-fired power from their Ohio Valley power plants to lucrative east coast markets.  Former PJM president Karl Pfirrmann was an active collaborator in the Project Mountaineer scam.

At the end of the PATH debacle, state consumer advocates, including WV’s Byron Harris, caught PJM hiring a PATH contractor, engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, to compare PATH with a competing alternative, the Liberty Line project.  This egregious conflict of interest illustrated clearly that PJM was willing to sacrifice its own integrity to further the Project Mountaineer cause.

All of the weapons that were designed by the Cheney Administration to use the federal government to ram PATH-like transmission lines down the throats of state citizens have been systematically dismantled in the federal courts by a combination of state government and citizen action.  The WV PSC has been consistently absent from this fight.  All of the Cheney weapons created by Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act are gone.  The US Dept. of Energy congestion studies are voided, the National Interest Electrical Transmission Corridors have been eliminated, neither FERC nor DoE can impose federal eminent domain on states that rule against projects like PATH.  The power companies’ Cheney-supplied long barreled forty four is off the table for good.

The WV PSC commissioners were so anxious to do AEP/FE’s bidding, and were so afraid of citizen intervenors, that they granted AEP/FE’s dismissal motion in less than 24 hours.  That’s too bad, because in a little over a week, AEP/FE are required to file a PJM analysis in East Virginia that could have a significant impact on a future PATH re-application.  It would have been prudent (and we know how prudent the WV PSC has been) to wait until the power companies make that report public on March 15, to see just how bad PATH looks when it is stacked up against some real alternatives.

PJM’s news release and letter from PJM president Terry Boston were designed to save face.  Remember that only once, in the fall of 2009, did we see independent expert testimony in response to PJM’s propaganda and rigged “planning process.”  In that testimony in the East Virginia PATH case, we saw national planning expert Eddie Dedashti demonstrate that PJM’s planning efforts failed nearly every recognized test for the adequacy of a transmission planning process.  We also saw electrical engineers George Loehr and Hyde Merrill specifically identify the emergency transfer (CETO) values as being far above what any other regional transmission organization in the US uses in planning scenarios.

The power companies recognized that their PJM claims could never withstand real analysis by independent experts.  They could never allow the PATH cases to go to final hearings, where the utter inadequacy of PJM’s claims would be starkly revealed.  PJM couldn’t even maintain its rigged peak load projections for the last three years.

AEP/FE are still picking our pockets with the FERC cost recovery system.  Keryn’s and Ali’s case is still open, challenging over $3 million of power company charges in 2009 alone.  AEP/FE will file their 2010 costs at a meeting in DC in June 2011.  FERC must terminate the PATH gravy train now if the federal agency wants to maintain any credibility at all.  If FERC allows AEP/FE to rob us for their PATH project, every power company in the US will announce power line projects and apply for cost recovery and guaranteed profits.  When their projects get turned down, they will continue to steal money from rate payers.  FERC needs to shut this process down.  NOW.

Thanks to Dominion Virginia Power, we have a clear picture of a permanent alternative to PATH.  Of course, this alternative was there all the time, but PJM was so bent on doing AEP/FE’s bidding that they completely suppressed it.  Half of Dominion’s plan, which they referred to as Alternative One in a presentation they made to PJM last summer, is already in the process of being approved and construction could start this fall.  This rebuilding of the Mt. Storm to Doubs line will eliminate almost all of the NERC thermal violations on which PJM has based its claims that PATH is needed.

Almost all of the remaining PJM thermal violations occurred on FE’s Pruntytown to Mt. Storm line.  This line lies entirely in WV and is completely within the jurisdiction of the WV PSC.  The line is also about as old as Dominion’s Mt. Storm to Doubs line and is in serious need of repair or replacement.  In its August 2008 order approving FE/Dominion’s TrAIL, the WV PSC ordered Allegheny, now FE, to provide the PSC with a report on the condition of Pruntytown to Mt. Storm, in the year following the TrAIL line’s start date in June 2011.  We need to stay on the PSC and urge the Commissioners to order the rebuilding of the Pruntytown to Mt. Storm line.

Can PATH come back?  PJM has left the door open.  Anything can happen.  AEP/FE still own the land for both the Welton Spring substation and the Kemptown Substation.  The people most in danger are the people who live around Mt. Airy, MD.  PJM and the power companies have their eyes on Mt. Airy for a number of different new transmission lines from both the west and the east.  Those threats remain, even with PATH gone.

PATH, in the form we have seen it, is dead.  PJM could never make the numbers work.  When threatened with actual open hearings on PATH, PJM pulled the plug.

It wasn’t just the demand issue.  It was PJM’s whole planning process.  PJM told us in the recent press release that they are going to be overhauling how they plan for transmission lines.  They have been forced to do this, because they have so little credibility left. With MD, DE and NJ choosing to withdraw from PJM in order to free the rebuilding their states’ electric generation from PJM’s rigged system, it is possible that PJM may not even be around in ten years.  PJM already finds itself having to sue NJ in federal court to defend its failed capacity market.

So the PATH chapter is really over.  AEP/FE will have their hands full fighting off the rising tide of home-based power generation, the rapid development of offshore wind power in the Mid-Atlantic states and the rapid expansion of state subsidized natural gas power plants in those same states.

We have won this round, but it is not the last round.