Keryn Newman of Jefferson Co. (left)
and local resident Ali Haverty, of Chloe

Consumers are being charged to cover the front groups and PATH'S public relation machine on top of the 2.1 billion cost of the project." - Ali Haverty

By Bob Weaver

The costs of promoting and developing the giant PATH electric generating project have already been charged to electric ratepayers, according to a formal complaint filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The PATH subsidiaries of Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power have wrongly charged over $3 million in improper expenditures to electric ratepayers in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to the complaint.

Calhoun resident Ali Haverty of Chloe and Keryn Newman of Shepherdstown filed the complaint with the FERC, after sifting through company and regulatory documents.

The giant 275-mile PATH electric transmission project, which would cross several West Virginia counties, including Calhoun, is currently being considered by the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The new transmission lines would deliver electric from coal-fired power plants in WV to the eastern corridor.

The complaint has been filed within a week of a report that says West Virginia has the fourth highest amount of toxic mercury from coal-fired power plants that settles into all living things.

The state continues to issue warnings about eating too many fish laden with mercury.

In Haverty and Newman's formal challenge filed Friday to the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission High-line, they say their review of 2009 project costs revealed a pattern of misleading marketing efforts using funds inappropriately charged to ratepayers and a range of accounting errors.

The complaint asks that the FERC not accept PATH's Annual Update and begin a broader investigation.

Haverty and Newman allege that the PATH Companies wrongly recovered expenses for a $2 million advertising campaign and over $1 million for creation and management of front groups and a "propaganda program" carried out with private groups and inappropriately billed as "public education."

The women describe improper lobbying and charitable donations, and actions to suppress citizen opposition in Loudoun County, Va.

"This Challenge tells the story of PATH's public relations war against the customers they are supposed to serve, as revealed to us by the money they spent - our money," said Newman.

Regional grid operator PJM Interconnection has collected an annual revenue requirement for yearly PATH expenses from PJM's 51 million ratepayers every year since 2008.

"We all see our rates going up, but rarely do we understand why. It is extremely upsetting to know PATH spent almost 20 percent of their collected costs on front groups and advertising for a project they can't get approved," said Haverty.

"They just asked for another delay in the approval process. It's a nightmare for the thousands of West Virginians whose lives are in limbo. When you see injustice like this, you have to try to do something," she said.

Bill Howley, who writes the The Power Line  blog that has focused on the PATH project for the last three years, said, "The FERC challenge reveals just how out of control FERC's cost recovery system has become."

"This rate increase scheme for PATH was created by FERC almost four years ago, and now Dominion Virginia Power's Alternative One has made PATH completely unnecessary," Howley said,"All West Virginia consumers should stand by Haverty and Newman in their fight against this crazy system."

Haverty and Newman have been examining PATH's costs since last summer using rules designed to provide public transparency.

The two citizens filed a preliminary challenge on the PATH Companies last November, which was not answered to their satisfaction.

"The burden has now shifted to the PATH companies to prove the accuracy of their accounting and the prudence of their expenditures," said Newman.

The PATH companies have 20 days from the filing date to produce their answer to the Commission.

More to follow ...