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Power companies finance group to defend PATH

August 05, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. --  First, there was PATH. Now, there's PEAT.

PATH is the acronym for Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, a proposed 276-mile, single 765-kilovolt power line that runs from a substation in Putnam County, W.Va., to a proposed substation in Kemptown, Md., in Frederick County.

The line crosses through southern Jefferson County, and runs for 31 miles in Virginia and 20 miles in Maryland. Its cost is pegged at $1.8 billion.

PEAT, an acronym for PATH Education and Awareness Team, is a joint venture financed by Allegheny Energy and America Electric Power, builders of the proposed power line, in answer to its critics.

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The team was organized more than a month ago with six paid members, said Martinsburg attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, PEAT's West Virginia spokesman. Allegheny Energy spokesman Allen Staggers said Russell Frisby, former chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, represents the team in Maryland.

The rest of the team consists of technical experts and representatives from the business and labor communities, Martin said.

In March, the developers applied to the West Virginia Public Service Commission for a permit, Staggers asid.

The Public Service Commission has set public hearings for September and October, the dates for which have not been announced.   

Evidentiary hearings are to be scheduled before the PSC in February, and a decision on the proposal is to be made on or before June 21, Staggers said.

PEAT's Web site, www.pathawareness.com, attempts to correct what it says is wrong information from the power line's critics. 

For example, critics claim the line will only provide power to New York and New Jersey.

"In addition to maintaining the reliability of the transmission grid, PATH will supply electricity to regional homes and businesses on its way to Kemptown," the Web site said.

The team also discounts claims by opponents that the power line will cause serious health problems to those who live and work close by.

The power company said "numerous scientific studies over the past several decades have explored the possibility of health effects from electromagnetic fields and found them to be no more harmful than normal household appliances."

In answer to opponents' views that renewable energy sources should replace the need for new power lines, PEAT said while hydroelectric, wind and other renewable energy have come a long way, transmission systems will still be needed to get the power where it's needed.

Investments in energy efficiency and conservation will eliminate the need for a new transmission line, opponents have said.

PEAT counters, saying while such investment is important for the future, conservation alone will not be enough in the face of the explosion of new technologies.

Patience Wait and Keryn Newman, two Shepherdstown W.Va., women who have been leaders in the opposition to PATH, have organized meetings and protests against the power line.

Wait had much to say about the emergence of PEAT Wednesday.

"I think it's nice to finally have it out in the open that PATH supporters are being paid for it," she said.

"I have not found anyone who supports PATH just because it's a good idea," she said.

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