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Allegheny Power changing high-voltage line plan

October 17, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

TRI-STATE -- Changes announced Friday to the route of a planned high-voltage power line make it "quite unlikely" that the line will run through Washington County, Md., or through Berkeley and Morgan counties in West Virginia, spokesmen for Allegheny Power said Friday.

However, Allegheny Power Spokesman Allen T. Staggers would not rule out Jefferson County, W.Va.

"I suspect Jefferson County will be within the new study area," Staggers said.

Allegheny Power and American Electric Power announced Friday that the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) will be reconfigured.

The PATH line had been planned to run from a substation near St. Albans, W.Va., to Bedington, W.Va., and from there to a new substation to be built in Kemptown, Md.

The project was to include a single 765-kilovolt transmission line between St. Albans and Bedington and two 500-kilovolt lines between Bedington and Kemptown.

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Under the changes announced Friday, the route no longer wil pass through Bedington and the dual 500-kilovolt section will be replaced with a single 765-kilovolt line.

The Bedington substation will be replaced by another substation southwest of Bedington, in the area of eastern Grant County, northern Hardy County or southern Hampshire County in West Virginia.

While the line's precise route before the changes had not been determined, several possible routes released by Allegheny Power earlier this year would have cut through Washington County and Morgan, Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia.

Preservationists protested those routes, some of which ran close to Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal.

Allegheny Power spokesman Todd L. Meyers said that response was a key factor in the company's choice to reroute the line.

The power company received about 2,000 comments about the line during 20 open houses.

"With all the different constraints, all the different historic areas of the parks, communities, etcetera, and everything we were hearing at the open houses, it was going to be very difficult," Meyers said.

He said all of the proposed 500-kilovolt routes shown at open house meetings are "off the table."

Boonsboro Mountain Road resident Dennis Palmer said he was happy to hear about the changes. "I'm sure glad to hear they're not going to tear up any of the natural resources up here," he said.

PATH opponent Patience Wait of Shepherdstown, W.Va., was cautiously optimistic.

"While we are celebrating, we are not absolutely sure we are out of the woods yet," Wait said.

Wait was part of a group of residents who rallied against PATH Thursday evening outside of Hedgesville High School before the gubernatorial debate there and again Friday morning in Shepherdstown.

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said he received a call earlier this week about the changes.

While Barr said power company officials did not tell him definitively that the line will not come through Washington County, he said the news seemed "pretty good" for the county.

"They told me, 'I think you're smart enough to figure out what that means,'" Barr said, referring to the decision not to go through Bedington.

Meyers said because the new midway substation will be southwest of Bedington, Washington County likely will be too far north for the line.

"I can't say categorically (that it won't go through Washington County), but we're looking to the south of there," Meyers said.

Berkeley County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said the county has been verbally assured by Allegheny Power that the line will not pass through Berkeley County.

Berkeley County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said he was happy both for the landscape and residents of Berkeley County.

"The beauty and tranquility of the hills of West Virginia have been protected," Teufel said. "It's a great day for Berkeley County and those people that were going to be affected by the power line."

The two power companies have been considering changing the route for about two weeks, Meyers said.

The companies had to get approval from PJM Interconnection, which manages the mid-Atlantic power grid, to change the proposed route and voltages.

The power companies were allowed to switch from dual 500-kv lines to one 765-kv line after abandoning Bedington, which could not have handled a 765-kv line, Meyers said.

Although it is only one line, a 765-kv line has more capacity than two 500-kv lines, he said.

The changes to PATH will delay the project for about three months, Meyers said.

Because the company must determine new alternate routes, the application to Maryland and West Virginia public service commissions will be pushed back from December to the first quarter of 2009, Meyers said.

He said new open houses will be scheduled in places where the line could pass after possible routes are determined.

"This is a fluid, dynamic process. You don't have all the answers until you go through that process of studies, findings, until we went through the process of open houses," Meyers said.

Staff writer Matthew Umstead contributed to this story.

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