Power comes at high price to West Virginians
The proposed Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline creates controversy in West Virginia
Tuesday, December 8, 2009 - 22:53
How would you feel if you woke up one morning to find that a giant electric line would soon be turning your once pristine backyard into a scene from the movie Transformers? (And there was nothing you could do about it!) A plan is currently in proposition that could make this idea a reality for many West Virginians. American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Energy are fighting hard for permission to build the largest possible interstate power line from Southern West Virginia, into Western Maryland. The line, obviously an eyesore, will cut through thousands of acres of rural forests and farmlands, destroying vegetation, and causing devastating sedimentation and soil erosion. The worst thing is- many people are not even aware that the proposed line will run through their property.
The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH, as it is more commonly known, is a response to the increased demand for energy in the mid-Atlantic region. The line, which will run all the way from AEP's John Amos Power Plant near Nitro, W. Va., to an Allegheny sub-station near Kemptown, Md., is supposedly necessary to provide this energy in a reliable fashion. The imminent need for the line, however, has been greatly questioned. Many people believe the problem could be solved through quicker, less intrusive and less costly means than building a huge, new transmission line. It seems that even the creators of PATH are unsure of its immediate need. The project, which was originally planned for 2012 was pushed back to 2013. Then PATH officials issued another statement, saying that the line wouldn't be needed until 2014.
Despite much speculation on whether or not PATH is really necessary, the project may soon obtain a certificate of convenience in West Virginia. Any utility who wants to build a line in West Virginia can obtain a certificate if they can convince state authorities that it would necessary for the public good. Once the certificate is obtained, they can start building even without the permission of people whose land would be used. The certificate requires that PATH place an ad in local newspapers, describing the project and the lands that will be affected. The convenience certificate does not, however, require that landowners be directly notified.
Though giant electric lines in general are enough to make many environmentalists wary, I think what scares me the most about PATH is that this is a huge, $1.6 billion investment into dirty energy. Nitro, West Virginia's John Amos Power Station, which will be a significant source of PATH's energy, is one of the most polluting power plants in the United States. It has already generated at least three major releases of sulfuric clouds in the past year. We need to be investing in better energy alternatives, rather than increasing the east coast's reliance on coal-fired power plants.
It does not seem fair to me that West Virginia should have to give up its land, some of the most diverse habitat in the world, to suit the needs of an entire region. Not only will West Virginians be paying the environmental consequences, their monthly electric bills will actually go up.
Everyone seriously needs to look into the PATH case. Local activist, Bill Howley, has created a blog for people to discuss many of the different issues surrounding PATH. In an effort to remain as unbiased as possible, I tried to refrain from putting too much of my opinion into this blog; I'd prefer you figure the facts out for yourselves. The people who are fighting to stop this project are standing up against some incredibly powerful sources, who have done little to evaluate the environmental consequences of their project. As responsible citizens, we need to educate ourselves on the matter, and fight hard to protect our rights and our land.
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