By Bill Howley

West Virginia's two largest electric power companies, American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Energy, want to construct an interstate power line, transmitting electricity at 765 Kv (765,000 volts) from AEP's John Amos Power Station near Nitro, WV to an Allegheny sub-station near Martinsburg, WV and on into Maryland.

This project, known as the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline or PATH, will follow one of two proposed routes through Calhoun County.

The northern route will pass through Hur around Grantsville and east near Route 5 generally following the route of an existing high voltage power line.

The southern route will pass near Oka and Stinson and into Braxton County.

Allegheny spokespeople have indicated that they are leaning toward the northern route at this time.

Almost all the power that would pass through PATH will be going to electrical customers outside of West Virginia.

The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) has given the power companies the ability to include the costs of PATH in the electric bills of all customers in a multi-state region including West Virginia, although no West Virginians would draw electricity from the line.

West Virginians will be bearing all of the other costs of PATH beyond increased electrical rates.

Consumers in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will get cheap, coal-fired electricity from West Virginia and will be able to avoid building power plants and lines in their own states.

West Virginians will see their landscape marred by a huge construction project, suffer damage from line operation and maintenance, and will face decades of increased pollution and destructive mountaintop removal from coal-based electricity generation in the state.

Allegheny Energy officials describe PATH as an "extra high-voltage" power line.

PATH towers, spaced from 800 feet to 1200 feet apart will be 130 feet to 150 feet tall.

The line's right-of-way will be at least 200 feet wide. In many cases, PATH may take construction rights-of-way as much as a quarter mile wide so that builders have the flexibility of shifting the line around obstacles.

The power companies say PATH will improve the reliability and security of the network of power lines that serve the east coast.

The power companies say that increasing demand for electricity in the Northeast means we have to build bigger lines to carry more power.

There are several things wrong with the power companies' arguments.

It is much cheaper and safer to reduce electrical use in the eastern US through new technologies and conservation than to build a huge new power line.

Building smaller power plants using a variety of sources like natural gas, wind, heat generated by local manufacturing plants and solar power, and locating them in or near cities, reduces the need for large power lines.

Using smaller power lines from a variety of power sources actually increases the reliability of the electrical grid because we aren't dependent on just a few lines or power plants that could be easily damaged or attacked.

Allegheny and AEP are planning to apply to the West Virginia Public Service Commission for a license to build PATH in March of 2009.

A number of citizens' groups across the state are now organized, including West Virginia Citizens Against PATH, to argue to the PSC that this power line should not be built.

The opponents' main argument is that reducing power use and building more low-polluting power plants on the east coast would eliminate the need for PATH as described by the power companies.

If the eastern states want more power, they should produce it themselves.

PATH is by no means a "done deal" at this point.

The recent economic slowdown has dramatically reduced electricity demand in exactly the places the power companies predicted increases.

Maryland and New Jersey have recently announced major emergency efforts to both reduce power consumption and produce their own electricity.

Allegheny Energy has also had to reduce its budget for building projects because of falling sales revenues.

Citizen opposition, especially in the eastern panhandle, has caused route changes and the elimination of the line in Berkeley and Morgan Counties.

The Calhoun County Commission has joined at least six other counties along the line in opposing the construction of PATH.

By stopping this unnecessary power line, West Virginians will be playing a big part in creating new energy solutions that will make our whole country stronger and safer.

You can find the latest developments in the PATH story by going to The Power Line blog at The Power Line has current news about PATH, citizen activity and the alternatives to constructing PATH.

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