(08/05/2008)
The Sierra Club says it will appeal to West Virginia's Supreme Court to stop a $1.1 billion power line project.

The WV Public Service Commission approved the project Friday.

The 120-mile project would cross eight counties from north of Morgantown to northern Virginia.

"The line results in a gross imbalance between electric needs and environmental degradation," said Sierra Club attorney William DePaulo.

Allegheny Energy has been promoting the line as the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL for short.

Sierra Club members claim that an alternate route approved by the PSC is actually more environmentally damaging than Allegheny Energy's original proposal, according to the Charleston Gazette.

The project will funnel more coal-fired power to Eastern population centers.

TrAIL is the first of two pending transmission line proposals to come before the PSC.

American Electric Power (see earlier Herald stories) is expected to request commission approval for a larger $3 billion project.

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission High-line, or PATH, would stretch for 290 miles from the John Amos power plant near St. Albans to a substation outside Frederick, Maryland.

But PATH, like TrAIL, will draw intense opposition from West Virginians who fear huge power lines and towers will mar scenic views, lower their property values, and continue what they say is an environmentally damaging reliance on coal-fired electricity.

PATH will cross Calhoun County and a number of other regional counties.

The PSC rejected concerns about coal's greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain State, some of which have apparently been plaguing the Greater Kanawha Valley with a "blue haze," even before the plants increase capacity.

Commissioners also threw out objections raised by area residents about lowered property values, ruined scenic views and the health effects of electromagnetic fields from the power line.

The PSC noted an Allegheny-sponsored West Virginia University study that found the power line could spawn construction of four more coal-fired plants.

The PSC approved the project partially because it will improve the economy of the state.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said, "This initiative will help the region meet current and future electricity demand, create and retain jobs and enhance our energy independence and security."

PSC Commissioners, according to the Gazette, agreed with Allegheny Energy that TrAIL was needed to resolve violations of national energy reliability standards.

"The more major cities depend on long transmission lines, the more subject they will be to power outages and blackouts due to major contingencies on the transmission system," said one spokesperson against the project.

PSC consumer advocate Byron Harris and commission staff experts vigorously objected to TrAIL.

They said there was not adequate proof the line was needed or that it would benefit West Virginia electricity customers who would pay for it through rate increases.

Allegheny Energy managed to silence those PSC critics with two separate settlements.

Under one deal, the company agreed to limit clear-cutting and aerial herbicide spraying, and to provide free electricity to residents whose property TrAIL crosses for a period of time.

In the second agreement, Allegheny Energy promised to move a transmissions operations center to West Virginia.

The company also promised to save customers more than $40 million in industry rate reductions, low-income assistance and conservation plans, and deferments of rate hikes to fund the transmission line construction.


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