(09/29/2009)
Residents pan PATH power line project

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer
wvgazette.com

FLATWOODS, W.Va. - Central West Virginia residents gave the proposed PATH power line a cool reception Monday, criticizing it as an unnecessary project that would ruin the state's scenic vistas while providing few local benefits and perpetuating the reliance on coal-fired power.

More than 200 people showed up for two rounds of public hearings on the $1.8 billion proposal for a more than 275-mile, 765-kilovolt transmission line across the heart of West Virginia.

"The project is based mostly on profit, not need," said Paris Webb, whose family has lived and worked on a farm near Gassaway for more than 100 years.

Almost all of the speakers spoke out strongly against the project being promoted by American Electric Power and Allegheny Power as a solution to electrical grid problems that is both environmentally safe and an economic booster for the region. The companies call the project the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH.

Residents of Braxton and Calhoun counties blasted PATH on all of those counts. They said it would make West Virginia's grid more vulnerable to power outages elsewhere, damage the state's forests and communities, and provide little in the way of long-term, sustainable jobs.

"At a time when people all over the world are beginning to realize the dangers of fossil fuel consumption, it goes beyond all reason to cement our future into the same old ways of obtaining energy," said Jude Binder, an artist and teacher from Calhoun County.

Braxton County resident Misty Dennison said she and her husband are both boilermakers, and support efforts to provide jobs. But Dennison, whose property would be crossed by PATH, said that a new power line isn't the answer to economic woes.

"This line would only make jobs for a short time," Dennison said. "I know West Virginia is desperate for jobs, but it's not going to create jobs in the long term."

In seeking PSC approval for PATH, AEP and Allegheny face a bigger fight than Allegheny did when it won authorization for its Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL, a 500-kilovolt line across the northern part of the state. More than 250 people and groups have intervened in the case, which is scheduled for formal PSC evidentiary hearings in early February.

All three PSC commissioners showed up for Monday's hearings, held at the Days Inn just off Interstate 79 near Flatwoods.

More than 100 people attended an early afternoon session, and another 100 turned out for an evening hearing.

PATH is proposed to run from near AEP's John Amos Power Plant near St. Albans, across northern Kanawha County and through parts of Roane and Calhoun counties before running through the middle of Braxton County. From there, the proposed route turns northeast across Upshur and Barbour counties. Then, it turns east and cuts across Tucker County and the northern edge of the Monongahela National Forest, and then across Grant, Hardy, and Hampshire counties. The proposed route crosses into Virginia before coming back across Jefferson County and then on east into Maryland.

If the project is approved, it would be funded by rate hikes of 67 cents per month for AEP customers and 56 cents per month for Allegheny customers. Those estimates are based on 1,000-kilowatt hours of power per month.

Public hearings on PATH continue Friday in Charleston, with sessions at 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the Culture Center at the Capitol Complex.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.

wvgazette.com


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