For six years, the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH)—a massive, unnecessary 765-kV transmission line— has threatened Virginia. The line was to start in southwest West Virginia, travel northeast through previously undisturbed land, eventually cross through Virginia’s northern Piedmont, and wind up near Frederick, Maryland. PEC and our allies have been fighting this wasteful project for years, and we have some good news: The PATH transmission line project is officially dead. On August 24th, the Board of PJM, our regional grid operators, voted to cancel the project.
PEC has been fighting several long-distance transmission lines since 2006. That year, executives from Dominion Power and PJM traveled to our headquarters in Warrenton, VA, for a meeting to discuss their application to build the “Trans- Allegheny Interstate Line,” or TrAIL line, that would run through Virginia’s Piedmont. They told us there would be inevitable growth in electricity demand in Northern Virginia—growth that would continue unabated for decades. In their opinion, this projected growth merited an immediate investment in long-distance transmission lines.
PEC President Chris Miller told Dominion that their plans were based on flawed data and assumptions. The unsustainable housing boom was already beginning to unravel—developers were abandoning projects throughout our region, and countless homes and commercial spaces stood vacant. There had also been major advances in energy efficiency and demand response, and these advances made long-distance transmission lines the most costly, destructive option available.
Dominion assured PEC that they knew best when it comes to grid planning, and shortly thereafter filed their application to construct the TrAIL line. While Dominion and its partner Allegheny Power worked to get the TrAIL line approved, Allegheny was also working with American Electric Power to prepare yet another transmission line application—the PATH line.
So, what happened? The economy sputtered, and—as PEC staff predicted—the power companies’ projected growth in electricity demand didn’t pan out. Also, energy efficiency and demand response options expanded, and the price of natural gas hit an historic low. Then PJM changed their planning process in ways that PEC had suggested they should. Lastly, two federal court cases that PEC spearheaded helped change the legal landscape: One affirmed a state’s right to turn down a transmission line application based on the merits of the case, the other negated a previously designated National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor.
Unfortunately, Dominion and Allegheny were able to get the TrAIL line approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission in 2008—before the impacts of these changes were fully felt or understood. Much to the dismay of landowners in its wake, the TrAIL line was built and put into service in 2011.
Yet, thanks to what everyone learned from the TrAIL case, Allegheny wasn’t so lucky when it came to the PATH line. Because they were tied up with the TrAIL line case, their application for the PATH line was delayed by a year. When Allegheny finally applied, the PATH line case was assigned to the same Virginia Hearing Examiner who had heard the TrAIL case. Having approved the TrAIL line, the Examiner appeared more skeptical of PATH. He agreed with PEC that a more rigorous review of the power companies’ projections must precede the actual hearing for the case.
Allegheny’s numbers could not stand up to the new review process. It withdrew its PATH application twice before being forced to cancel the project for good on August 24th, 2012.
PEC has become a leader within the environmental community on both transmission planning and energy policy—enabling us to fight Goliaths, such as Dominion and Allegheny. We would not have been able to do this alone, however. PEC is grateful for the hard work of concerned citizens and of our ally organizations.
The fight is not over. Proposals for more unnecessary energy infrastructure will continue to arise in the Piedmont and the surrounding region. Our expertise and involvement in Richmond and at PJM puts us in a position to anticipate these new projects and to influence the direction they take—and we’re ready.
This article was featured in our Fall 2012 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View