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Path of power lines in the three countries faced with opposition

6 September 2009 1,371 views No Comment

Many Marylanders, Virginians, and West Virginians are finding themselves in a real-life David and Goliath battle with American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Energy over the proposed PATH power line. This is not your average power line. The power companies want to construct PATH (Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline) with 765 kv lines, the largest there is, and with massive towers as high as 200 feet, the size of a twenty-story building. They’ve applied for a construction-right-of-way of 2200ft, which means that though the line has been drawn in a specific path in the application, it could be moved anywhere within that 2200 ft swath during actual construction.

The proposed line is to extend across three states for 275 miles. It would begin at the John Amos coal-fired power plant substation in Putnam County, WV, cut northeast through 13 WV counties, weave its way through Frederick and Loudoun Counties in VA, Jefferson County in the WV panhandle, and Frederick County in MD, before ending at a substation that is to be built near Mount Airy/Monrovia.

According to the power companies, PATH is needed to prevent significant overloads and voltage problems in the region. They claim that PJM, the regional grid operator, has asked them to construct the line. But residents in all three states are fiercely opposing the proposal, not convinced that “need” is the underlying motivation for the $1.8 billion dollar project.

Keryn Newman of Shepherdstown, WV shared her take on the subject in a recent letter in the Observer: “PATH is all about greed, not need. The ‘need’ claimed by PJM is manufactured. As with any math problem, the desired answer can be obtained by playing with the numbers”.

“The power companies are guaranteed to make a whopping 14 per cent profit on every dollar they spend. In reality, PATH is not a sincere effort to strengthen America’s power grid,” noted Kirsten Weiblen of Hampshire County, WV. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, has guaranteed a 14.3% rate of return for the PATH project, reflecting a profit of at least 287 million for the power companies.

In Virginia, in their resolution of opposition against PATH, the Loudoun Co. Bd. of Supervisors states, “The need for the PATH proposal remains unexamined and unanalyzed by credible independent experts as does a review of alternatives.”

In West Virginia, more than 250 people have filed to be intervenors in the case against PATH. West Virginia PSC Chairman Michael Albert recently stated “In thirty years I have never seen anything like this”, referring to the number of intervenors. Thousands have signed protest letters and petitions opposing the 200+ mile section that cuts through their state.

Maryland citizens have organized their opposition to PATH in the Sugarloaf Conservancy and CAKES (Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation). On the CAKES website, they claim they are “determined to prevent the highest voltage electric substation ever built by Allegheny Power”, and note that “we are not alone in our opposition and this is a battle worth fighting.”

Maryland residents are concerned that 1300 homes, one children’s center, and two elementary schools are in close proximity to the new substation site. Jefferson County, WV residents are concerned about two of their schools being close to the line. Thousands of children across the three states will be near the lines at home or at school. Parents are fearful of the possible threat of childhood leukemia and other health risks being imposed upon their children from EMF and ELF exposure from the power lines and substations. The resolution from Loudoun County VA also suggests that “the proposal raises public fears about health issues.”

At a recent PATH information meeting in Sissonville, WV, their EMF expert, Dr. Bill Bailey, stated, “I would be more concerned about my child getting Lyme disease than being harmed by EMF exposure”. But informed citizens are looking beyond paid power company experts for their answers.

In his article “Do High Voltage Power Lines Cause Cancer”, Midwest Today, April 1996, Neil Lawrence tells of a cluster of children from Omaha. One mother of a child with cancer noticed at a local swimming pool that there were several children at the pool with hair loss and scars from operations. Once the parents started talking amongst themselves, they discovered that eleven children at that pool had two things in common: The all had cancer and they all lived within one mile of the same substation.

The Draper study performed in the UK revealed that children 15 and under living within 100 meters from high voltage lines were almost twice as likely to get leukemia. It found that children 5 and under had even a higher risk. Most research has been conducted on 400kv or smaller lines. The 765kv lines bring an even higher risk.

WV resident Bill Howley has been researching the PATH proposal for more than a year. He keeps citizens informed on the topic through his blog, The Power Line at .http:// calhounpowerline.wordpress.com/. ” I got involved with this when I realized what incomplete and misleading information the power companies were feeding the public. I wanted them to know the truth”, said Howley.

In Loudoun County VA, residents voiced their opposition, noting the adverse effect the line will have especially in the areas of the Gateway to Loudoun County and Lovettsville, established in 1772. They highly value this historic region and its tourism industry. PATH also crosses the C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail, and [the northern tip of the] Monongahela National Forest.

Property value loss, health issues, devastation through scenic landscapes, fragmentation of wildlife habitat, the use of dangerous herbicides for maintaining clear-cut areas, lack of need and exploring alternatives, polluting water sources– any of these issues would be troubling enough if they were caused by something the public believed was necessary. But, when the overwhelming perception is that there is no convincing need for PATH, the concern intensifies and turns to anger and distrust in our public utilities, government and politicians.

There are numerous causes for concern brought on by the PATH proposal. Perhaps the most disconcerting one to many people is the fact that if this project is approved, it will lock into place for 50 or more years the obsolete practice of producing electricity by coal-fired power plants which is harmful to our planet. To that end, it seems to be incongruous with our current political environment where the new administration is not trying to silence the voices of climate change experts such as James Hansen, but is acknowledging that global warming is not a myth. The emissions from West Virginia power plants go up into the sky and head eastwardly to Virginia, Maryland, and the D.C. area.

“There seems to be something Un- American when average citizens, many of whom are living from paycheck to paycheck, are having to battle such a huge giant with lavish ad campaigns, endless funding, hired experts, huge law firms, and who will be making millions off of our loss and devastation. And we ratepayers will be incurring their costs. It’s fundamentally unjust that for-profit companies with millionaire CEOs can take or ruin our most valuable asset, our property, through eminent domain, and put our children’s and grandchildren’s health and well-being at risk. Those who will rake in millions on this deal won’t have to worry about their children playing near the lines “, said John Cobb of Lewis County, WV.

This article appeared in the Sept 1st Washington News. Nancy Williams is a Kanawha County resident and is an intervenor in the PATH case.

By Nancy Williams

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