In the latest of a series of setbacks for the proposed Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH), engineering, air and electric experts submitted testimony finding that (contrary to developer claims) the line would actually make the eastern grid less reliable and lead to increased air pollution. Proposed by American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Power, PATH is a high-voltage transmission line which would be constructed through West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, at a cost of more than $1.8 billion to ratepayers.
The experts, testifying on behalf of the Sierra Club, include George Loehr and Hyde Merrill, nationally renowned electric experts, Chris James of Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. (a former EPA employee and Director of Air Planning for Connecticut), and Robert Fagan, also of Synapse, a mechanical engineer and energy economics expert. Their testimony concludes that the line is not needed; that cheaper, simpler alternatives are available; and that "[r]ather than increase reliability, PATH would actually make it worse."
"It's like running an extension cord down the block to plug your toaster into a neighbor's outlet rather than plugging it into an outlet in your own kitchen," said George Loehr. If PATH is constructed, he testified, "major East Coast cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Richmond would become more vulnerable to interruptions and blackouts, either from natural phenomena or from terrorist attacks" on transmission lines.
The expert testimony also validated concerns raised by environmental and community groups about increased pollution from coal-fired power plants. Chris James, an expert with over 20 years of experience in state and federal air programs, determined that air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would increase as a result of PATH, making it more difficult for Virginia, Washington D.C., and Baltimore to meet air quality standards, and contributing to eastern smog and haze. He explained that because electricity garners a higher price on the east coast, PATH would provide an incentive -- and an opportunity -- for coal-fired power plants in West Virginia and the Midwest to increase their output and sell more electricity to east coast cities. Increased pollution would follow.
"PATH is a boondoggle for ratepayers and a gift to coal companies," said Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice. "We urgently need a smart electric grid that supports wind power and other clean energy projects, but AEP and Allegheny Energy are trying to sell us on lines that will only help dirty old coal plants to ramp up profits -- and pollution."
"We keep hearing from AEP and Allegheny the mantra that this line will shore up our electrical grid and is desperately needed to keep the lights on. Now we have a clear, documented explanation of why that's not true," said Elena Saxonhouse, with the Sierra Club.
The expert testimony was submitted by the Sierra Club as part of formal proceedings before the Virginia State Corporation Commission. The Commission has the authority to approve or deny PATH in the state. The Commission is accepting public comment until January 12, 2010, hearings begin January 19, and a decision is expected sometime before May 2010.
Sierra Club is represented in the Virginia PATH proceedings by the non-profit law firm, Earthjustice. The Club is also a party in the Maryland and West Virginia PATH proceedings and expects to submit similar expert testimony in those states.
Proposed PATH route (PDF)
Full testimony - all PDF format