By Ken Ward Jr. Staff Writer

Charleston W.Va. - Developers of the proposed PATH power line have asked Virginia regulators to withdraw their permit application, saying the latest analysis no longer indicates the $1.8 billion project is needed by 2014.

Lawyers for American Electric Power and Allegheny Power, partners in the PATH project, said the new studies don't yet show when the power line might be needed. They don't know when they might file a new application in Virginia, but don't expect to do so before at least the third quarter of 2010.

The new developments, revealed Tuesday in a filing with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, further muddy the future for PATH, which is already facing numerous delays and other hurdles.

In West Virginia, the state Public Service Commission last month delayed its formal hearings on PATH until late 2010, and said it would not make a final decision on the project's application until February 2011.

And in Maryland, the state Public Service Commission in September threw out the PATH application, ruling that it was improperly filed because a PATH company formed for the project was not an "electric company" under Maryland law.

AEP and Allegheny have been seeking approval in three states for a new, 765-kilovolt line that would start near the John Amos power plant in Putnam County and run for more than 275 miles to a new substation proposed for Frederick County, Md. They've dubbed the line the Potomac Appalachian Highline, or PATH.

Power company officials said the project is needed to shore up the nation's ailing electrical grid, and, as proposed, "minimizes the effect on the natural and human environment."

But the project faces strong opposition, in part because PSC approval would allow the power company to use eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way from landowners.

Other critics say that PATH, like the already approved TrAIL power line, is little more than a huge extension cord to allow more pollution-causing coal-fired power to be sent from Appalachia and the Ohio Valley to East Coast population centers.

In late October, new expert testimony filed in the Virginia case by the Sierra Club questioned whether PATH was really needed to protect the reliability of the electrical transmission system.

And in its new Virginia filing, the PATH developers quote from a letter they received from the regional transmission grid manager, PJM, saying that PJM's latest studies no longer support PATH being needed by 2014.

"These new developments raise questions about the ability to support the application now on file with the commission that is based on a need for the PATH project in 2014," the power company lawyers said in their Virginia filing.

Abigail Dillen, an Earthjustice lawyer representing the Sierra Club in the Virginia case, said Tuesday, "PATH is a boondoggle for ratepayers and a gift to coal companies.

"We urgently need a smart electrical 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," Dillen said.

By Ken Ward Jr. Staff Writer

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