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Originally published Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 5:13 AM

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Multistate power line hits Va. snag

With new estimates showing a high-voltage line won't be needed by 2014, opponents want Virginia regulators to permanently pull the plug on a $1.9 billion multistate power project.

Associated Press Writer


With new estimates showing a high-voltage line won't be needed by 2014, opponents want Virginia regulators to permanently pull the plug on a $1.9 billion multistate power project.

The utilities proposing the 275-mile power line went to a regulatory hearing Wednesday to take the unusual step of seeking to withdraw their application for the 31-mile portion of the line through northern Virginia.

Allegheny Energy Inc. and American Electric Power are awaiting updated energy-demand estimates that they would include in a new filing. The amended filing would likely be made in late 2010.

A hearing examiner, Alexander F. Skirpan Jr., said he would issue his recommendation to the State Corporation Commission early next week. He also sought the modeling the companies used to conclude the line would not be needed as early as previously estimated.

Opponents of the power line used the hearing to press for an outright rejection of the project.

"Given this concession that the line isn't needed, we think this commission should deny the application flat out and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure the company doesn't come back with a similar application and waste everyone's time," Abigail Dillen, representing the Sierra Club, said after the hearing.

Other opponents pressed for a similar recommendation, and suggested sanctions for the utilities and reimbursement for legal costs.

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline is a 765-kilovolt power line that would be strung from AEP's coal-fired John Amos plant in West Virginia's Putnam County to a substation near Kemptown, Md.

The energy companies have argued that the power line is needed to feed the Northeast's growing hunger for energy, and have warned that blackouts could result if it isn't built. The projections were developed by PJM Interconnection, which manages the grid system for a 13-state region.

But new computer modeling suggests the need is not as dire as predicted, in part because of energy conservation and efficiencies inspired by an economic recession and a move from fossil fuels, as well as projected new power plants moving on line.

"All that leads to a decision that, given those new parameters on the amount of power and the amount of load you're going to have, a new transmission line isn't needed apparently for 2014," said Richard D. Gary, an attorney for the utilities.

Asked when the line might be needed, Gary said, "We don't know. We're going to wait for the process to run its course and we get new data out for 2010."


A spokesman for PJM, the grid manager, said the new modeling doesn't state "the line won't be needed, but it won't be needed by 2014."

"What we are talking about here is the timeline for the line," PJM's Terry Williamson said. "Not the line per se. We're talking about timing."

The collection of the updated energy forecast will likely be available to submit to regulators in Maryland and West Virginia without delaying the process in those states, Gary said.

Opponents of the power line object to coal-fired energy or the 160- to 180-foot towers that would rise along several counties in Virginia to carry the lines.


Associated Press writer Brian Farkas in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.

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