Court upholds permits for Va. section of PATH line

November 05, 2009

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The Virginia Supreme Court upheld permits for construction of a multistate power line Thursday, rejecting a claim by the project's opponents that state regulators ceded too much authority to the federal government.

The court unanimously ruled that the State Corporation Commission's approval of the Virginia portion of the line was supported by evidence that the project is an acceptable solution to meeting future demand for electricity in northern Virginia.

Dominion Virginia Power and Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Co., a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Energy Inc., plan to build the 500-kilovolt transmission line from Washington County, Pa., to Loudoun County, Va. The 265-mile line would also cross northern West Virginia.

Opponents, including the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Power-Line Landowners Alliance and the Virginia counties of Fauquier, Prince William and Culpeper, claimed the SCC relied too heavily on results of the federal regulatory process as well as the "inherent bias" in data provided by the applicants.


They also claimed the process was titled to favor a transmission solution, and that the SCC should have given more consideration to generation or conservation alternatives. The court said the record in the case proves the opponents wrong.

"We agree with the Commission that the record as a whole demonstrates that the Commission fulfilled its statutory obligation to consider alternative solutions to the need for the proposed transmission line," Justice Lawrence L. Koontz Jr. wrote.

Neither Dominion nor the Piedmont Environmental Council immediately responded to requests for comment.

The utilities have said northern Virginia could face rolling blackouts by summer 2011 if the line is not built. Dominion also has said that electricity consumption downturns caused by a sour economy historically are followed by sharp increases when the economy rebounds, so the power grid must be ready to handle the eventual recovery.

Developers willing to delay regulatory decision

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The developers of a multistate power line project said Wednesday they are willing to delay a regulatory decision on their $1.9 billion project until January 2011 to make the three-state review process more efficient.

The offer was in a filing with the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The filing was in response to last month's staff recommendation that the application to build the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH, be dismissed or delayed past next June's statutory deadline.

The staff's request followed a similar one filed by Virginia's State Corporation Commission staff reviewing PATH's application in that state.

Staff in both states argued since Maryland dismissed PATH's application in September, the 765-kilovolt power line would have a starting point, but no ending point. They also argued any decisions on the line should be delayed until electrical power need projections are updated in February.

Allegheny Energy and partner American Electric Power have proposed building the 275-mile line from AEP's coal-fired John Amos plant in Putnam County, across parts of northern Virginia, to a substation near Kemptown, Md. In Wednesday's filing, PATH lawyers said Kemptown remains the line's planned end point.

Maryland's Public Service Commission dismissed the application saying the companies created to develop the line were not an electric utility under Maryland law. The ruling gave Allegheny Energy subsidiary Potomac Edison until Oct. 9 to refile the application.

PATH lawyers said a decision whether to refile the application, or take the issue to the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, is forthcoming.

In Wednesday's filing in West Virginia, lawyers for PATH said Maryland's decision "complicated" their efforts to win approval for the line in all three states.

PATH lawyers said they would be willing to extend West Virginia's decision-making deadline from June 22 to Jan. 25, 2011, as long as the schedule for non-electrical need issues remained intact. Under state law, an application must be decided upon with 400 days of its filing, unless the time is extended.

Delaying the decision deadline would be more "administratively efficient" since the state commissions could review the latest power need projections developed by PJM Interconnection, which manages the grid system for a 13-state region, PATH lawyers said.

"Finally, Applicants believe this revised schedule will provide a much greater chance of cohesion of the need presentations in the three states than the current schedules in West Virginia and Virginia," PATH lawyers said.

A similar request to delay a decision on the line would be filed in Virginia, they added.

The PSC has yet to act on its staff's dismissal recommendation. Agency spokeswoman Sarah Robertson said the commission "is taking all of this into consideration and will proceed as it sees best according to its statutory obligation."

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