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Eastern Panhandle needs more electric power, experts say at W.Va. forum

July 17, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- In the last 10 years in the Eastern Panhandle, there have been 4,200 new commercial hookups for electric service.

There have been 450 new industrial hookups for power in the last 10 years and 23,000 new residential hookups in that time, said Daniel Larcamp of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents 70 percent of the U.S. electrical power industry.

It's part of a trend in the country's increasing appetite for electric power, experts said at a forum Wednesday. They said time is running out to deal with the situation.

The country's electric supply system needs upgrades to handle increases in demand, and power failures could occur if improvements are not made, according to speakers at the forum hosted by West Virginians for Reliable Power, a coalition of state businesses, trade associations and labor representatives.

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Speakers at the forum were getting the word out about the need for more power and said business relies on a reliable power source.

"We don't want to be alarmists here, but the window in which we can act ... is becoming tighter and tighter," Larcamp said at the forum at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center.

Larcamp said more power generation facilities are needed, and besides traditional generation methods, alternative sources that depend on solar and wind power are also needed, although there are not sufficient transmission lines where wind power can be harnessed, Larcamp said.

Expanded power transmission facilities are also needed, Larcamp said.

A new high-voltage power line known as the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) is being proposed to meet increased demand for electricity.

The PATH line is expected to carry 765 kilovolts of electricity from a substation near St. Albans, W.Va., to another substation in Bedington in neighboring Berkeley County.

From there, twin transmission lines would carry 500 kilovolts each to a new substation to be built in Kemptown, Md.

The line's precise path has not been determined, but it could cut across southern Washington County, Allegheny Power officials have said.

John Brown, who helped organize Wednesday's forum, would not say whether the group supports the PATH proposal. Brown said Wednesday's forum was intended only to demonstrate the need for more power.

Speakers at the forum said the increased demand for power is attributed to population increase, larger homes, and expanded electrical appliances and equipment.

William Brier, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Edison Electric Institute, said he remembered growing up in his family's house in Kansas with no clothes dryer or air conditioning. Brier remembered large fans that moved air through his house.

Now, air conditioning is prevalent, as are new appliances like flat-screen televisions that require higher amounts of electricity, Brier said.

Brier said he expects to see a 30 percent increase in electric demand over the next 20 years, which is "enormous."

Officials also talked about power systems' susceptibility to attack.

Because power systems are becoming more computerized, they are more susceptible to computer hackers who may want to damage the systems, said Bruce deGrazia, president of Global Homeland Security Advisors.

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