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Shickle:SCC should explore options before OK'ing PATH

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

State regulators should consider all alternatives -- including upgrading existing high-voltage lines -- before authorizing a 765-kilovolt transmission line in Frederick County, according to a local government official.

The Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, better known as PATH, would have a significant impact on Frederick County and should be disallowed by the State Corporation Commission if at all possible, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Shickle.

The Board of Supervisors is one of dozens of groups and individuals who have moved to participate in the case.

"I respectfully request that the Commissioners make certain that all alternatives are explored with the ultimate goal of ensuring the proposed PATH line is not built," Shickle wrote in a letter to the three-judge panel.

The $1.8 billion, 765-kilovolt line is proposed to run from St. Albans, W.Va., to Kemptown, Md., via northern Frederick County.

PATH is needed to meet long-term demand for electricity along the East Coast and will provide a new east-west route for power to cross the Appalachian mountains, according to Allegheny Power and American Electric Power, the two utilities seeking permission to build the line.

Without PATH, an outage on one or two key major lines could lead to a significant blackout not unlike the one that hit the Northeast in 2003, according to the companies.

SCC officials held public hearings to gather input on the line at John Handley High School in Winchester, as well as in Loudoun County earlier this week.

Before regulators give permission to build the new line, they should give strong consideration to upgrading existing power lines to carry more electricity, Shickle said.

"We believe one possible solution would be the implementation of improvements to the various local electrical distribution systems so that planned land uses within the affected localities could benefit from this significant high-voltage transmission line construction project," Shickle wrote.

The existing Mt. Storm-Doubs line -- which crosses Frederick County near the Interstate 81 weigh station before turning north -- already carries 500 kilovolts into Northern Virginia.

It's true that lines can be upgraded by stringing new conductors from old towers, according to the utilities, but doing so requires taking the existing lines out of service.

That's a non-starter for the Mt. Storm-Doubs line, according to Allegheny. Potential overloads on that line are the reason that both the recently approved Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line project and PATH are being built.

PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator, has ordered the two utilities to have the line ready for use by 2014.

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