PATH Developers Withdraw Applications for Proposed Transmission Line
March 7, 2011
On February 28, 2011, Sierra Club and its allies throughout West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland celebrated a monumental victory when the developers of the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) withdrew their applications for the proposed line. The 275-mile long, high-voltage transmission line, a joint venture of coal giants American Electrical Power and Allegheny Energy, would have begun at the Amos substation in West Virginia, and cut through Virginia to Maryland. It would have allowed some of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation to transport more electricity to the East Coast. The resulting ramp-up of production at those plants would have increased soot and smog and displaced demand for local renewable energy in the East. Furthermore, the increased global warming pollution from the coal plants would have negated recent efforts in several Eastern states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Sierra Club has led the charge against the transmission line for the past two years, working with attorneys, organizers, and local landowners to coordinate a campaign in all three states to stop the line. The Club and its allies participated in state commission proceedings to show that PATH is not needed for grid reliability, and cleaner, cheaper alternatives exist to support a reliable electric system. The coalition’s efforts were vindicated last week when the regional grid operator, PJM, ordered PATH developers to suspend development of the line because it is not currently needed. The order came just in time for PJM to avoid submitting testimony in response to an order issued in the Club’s Virginia litigation. While PJM has stated that it will continue to "study" PATH as part of its 2011 Regional Transmission Expansion Planning process, this decision represents a major win in Sierra Club’s fight to move beyond coal and transition the nation to a clean energy economy.
December 1, 2010
On November 24, consumer advocates from eight different states sent a letter to the board of the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection, questioning its support of the proposed 275-mile, $2.1 billion Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH). In the letter, the coalition of consumer advocates urged PJM to look into cheaper alternatives to PATH to meet future energy needs in the region. The consumer advocates’ offices in all three states that would be directly impacted by the transmission line – Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia – signed onto the letter.
On another front, on November 18, the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals denied the special exception to build the proposed Frederick County substation that would be a terminus for PATH. The majority agreed that the proposed substation did not fit with the county's comprehensive plan for rural and residential development, and questioned the proposed substation’s impacts on local water supplies, wetlands, and the environment. While the Maryland Public Service Commission has argued that if it approves PATH and determines the substation is "integral" to the line, its decision will trump that of Frederick County, the County is prepared to defend its authority over the substation in state court. Regardless of who wins that potential battle, the County’s latest decision represents another major setback for PATH’s developers.
September 26, 2010
On September 15, Sierra Club and its allies celebrated another win against the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) when the Frederick County Planning Commission, by a 6-0 vote, found that the substation proposed as the terminus for the line was inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive Development Plan. The proposed Maryland substation would be the key connector for PATH and other transmission lines to carry dirty coal-fired power to east coast population centers. While the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has taken the position that if it approves the PATH line and determines the substation is "integral" to the line, its decision will trump that of Frederick County, the County is prepared to defend its authority over the substation in state court. Regardless of who wins that potential battle, the local disapproval of the substation represents a serious setback for PATH’s developers.
Sierra Club provided comments and testimony at the September 15 public hearing on the proposed substation in Frederick County and will continue to participate as PATH seeks to gain several other land use approvals from the County this fall.
January 13, 2010
Sierra Club and it allies celebrated another major victory when on December 29, 2009, developers of the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) asked Virginia regulators to withdraw their application for approval of the line. The withdrawal was based on new analysis by PJM, the region’s grid operator, showing that energy conservation measures like demand management and energy efficiency have forestalled the need for the $1.8 billion project for the time being. American Electric Power and Allegheny, PATH’s developers, aren’t sure when the transmission line might be needed or when they might file a new application in Virginia, but don’t expect to do so before late 2010.
The new analysis leading to PATH’s withdrawal was ordered by the Virginia State Corporation Commission in direct response to Sierra Club’s expert testimony. Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, submitted expert testimony showing the development of demand response and energy conservation programs in Northeastern states are reducing the need for expensive transmission lines and cheaper, alternative forms of energy are available in the region. Sierra Club’s experts also demonstrated that the proposed line would actually make the eastern grid less reliable and increase air pollution.
PATH is facing hurdles in West Virginia and Maryland as well. In West Virginia, the state Public Service Commission has delayed its formal hearings on PATH until late 2010, and has stated that it will not make a final decision on the project's application until February 2011. In September 2009, largely due to Sierra Club’s involvement, the Maryland Public Service Commission 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. Despite admitting in Virginia that the line is not needed in the foreseeable future, developers of PATH have since submitted a new application in Maryland. Sierra Club is urging Maryland regulators to dismiss the application while the need for the project is being re-evaluated.
AEP and Allegheny’s announcement has had resounding effects; two other coal-by-wire lines have since been delayed in the East—the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, which would extend from Virginia to Delaware, and the Susquehanna Roseland line, which would originate in Pennsylvania and end in New Jersey.
September 15, 2009
Sierra Club and its allies achieved a major victory for Maryland residents and clean air when, on September 9, the Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that Potomac Edison, a subsidiary of Allegheny Energy, was not eligible to apply for the necessary approvals for the PATH transmission line. PATH must receive a Certificate of Need from the Commission in order to construct the line. The Commission ruled that Potomac Edison could not apply on behalf of the entity known as PATH because PATH is not an "electric company." Only "electric companies" may build and operate high-voltage transmission lines in Maryland. This decision represents a major setback for PATH; the companies involved must figure out how to structure a new application with the Commission and construction of the line will likely be delayed by a number of months.
Sierra Club intervened in the Maryland proceeding in June 2009, citing concerns about the transmission line’s impact on air pollution and mountain top removal coal mining, and the risk that the line will undermine the East Coast’s renewable energy industry. In a hearing on preliminary procedural issues, Sierra Club's attorneys argued to the Commission that it could not grant Potomac Edison approval of the line on behalf of PATH - and the Commission agreed. Sierra Club's law program and local chapters are also fighting the line in Virginia and West Virginia, and coordinating efforts across the three states.
July 6, 2009
On June 29, 2009, Sierra Club sought to participate in the Maryland Public Service Commission’s review of a proposed high-voltage transmission line, the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH). The Club filed a petition to intervene with the Commission, citing concerns about the transmission line’s impact on air pollution, mountain top removal coal mining, and the East Coast’s renewable energy industry. The line, a joint venture of coal giants American Electrical Power and Allegheny Energy, would start in West Virginia and cut through Virginia to Maryland. It would allow some of the dirtiest coal plants in the country to transport more electricity to the East Coast, displacing demand for clean, renewable energy. The increased global warming pollution from the coal plants would negate recent efforts in several Eastern states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The proposed line would also cross large swaths of forested lands, and national historic sites such as the famed Appalachian Trail and the C&O canal.
The Club also filed a petition to intervene in the West Virginia PSC proceeding regarding PATH in early June. In a groundswell of local opposition, approximately one hundred individual citizens who oppose the line have also requested to intervene in that proceeding, as have several West Virginia counties. The Club plans to seek to intervene in the Virginia PATH proceeding shortly, and is coordinating efforts across the three states.
Details and Documents:
Consumer Advocates' Letter regarding PATH
November 24, 2010
Sierra Club Letter regarding PATH - Kemptown Substation
September 15, 2010, Frederick County Planning Commission
Hearing Examiner Report re PATH
January 6, 2010, Virginia State Corporation Commission
Coal-Power Transmission Line Off the Table
December 30, 2009, Sierra Club, Earthjustice Press Release
Maryland Public Service Commission Order
September 9, 2009
Proposed Transmission Line Would Increase Eastern States' Dependence on Coal
June 29, 2009, Sierra Club Press Release
One Transmission Line Scratched, Conservationists Hope for Highlands Cancellation
March 1, 2011 by Tom Johnson, NJ Spotlight
Utilities withdraw PATH line applications
March 1, 2011, The Journal
PJM Interconnection puts $2 billion PATH line on hold
February 28, 2011 by Ben Mook, The Daily Record
Shepherdstown woman files complaint against PATH
January 26, 2011 by Matt Armstrong, The Journal
PATH substation near Mount Airy denied in zoning vote
November 19, 2010 by Ed Waters Jr., Frederick News-Post
Refuse East Coast power line, push conservation instead
August 7, 2010 by Scott Williams and Bill Lepp, The Charleston Gazette
See other "Retiring Old Coal" cases.