Coal Tattoo

PATH: Is it needed? Would it increase reliability?

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New expert testimony filed today with the Virginia State Corporation Commission concludes that the PATH power line is not needed and would actually make our regional electrical grid less reliable.

The expert testimony, provided on behalf of the Sierra Club, also argues that PATH would increase air pollution, and that other cheaper and simpler alternatives are available.

American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy argue that PATH is needed to avoid power grid overloads and other reliability concerns. You can read their application to the West Virginia Public Service Commission here, or their “Frequently Asked Questions” sheet here. And, the PATH folks have a whole collection of print ads and broadcast spots here.

But here’s what George C. Loehr, a nationally renowned electricity expert, told the Virginia regulators:

Rather than increase reliability, PATH would actually make it worse.

… If PATH is approved, generating companies will be given a powerful incentive to site new generators in the Allegheny coalfields, hundreds of miles to the west, rather than in or close to the eastern load centers. Even existing coal-fired generators will have the opportunity to ramp up their outputs.

This will make the eastern megalopolis even more dependent on remote generation sources than it already is. Cities like Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington and Richmond will depend for their electric supply on generators hundreds of miles away. I’ve been in  electric power transmission planning and reliability for more than 47 years, but you don’t have to be an engineer to understand that this is a less reliable situation than if the resources were located nearby.

According to Loehr:

It’s like running an extension cord down the block to plug your toaster into a neighbor’s outlet rather than using an outlet in your own kitchen. The long transmission lines are vulnerable to all sorts of interruptions — including terrorist attack — so this is a national security issue as well as a reliability concern.

Also:

More transmission does not equal a higher level of reliability. Reliability is not a function of the amount of wire in the air.

You can read all of Leohr’s testimony at this site, where it was posted by Earthjustice, the environmental law firm working on the PATH case in Virginia for the Sierra Club. They’ve also got testimony posted there from electricity expert Hyde Merrill, energy economics expert Robert Fagan, and air pollution expert Chris James, who testified that PATH would increase pollution by making coal-fired power from West Virginia and the Midwest more available and attractive.

Abigail Dillen, a lawyer with Earthjustice, said:

PATH is a boondoggle for ratepayers and a gift to coal companies. We urgently need a smart electric grid that supports wind power and other clean energy projects, but AEP and Allegheny Energy are trying to sell us on lines that will only help dirty old coal plants to ramp up profits – and pollution.

In Virginia, the commission is accepting public comment until January 12, 2010, hearings begin January 19, and a decision is expected sometime before May 2010.  But remember, commission staff have filed a motion to reject PATH, citing uncertainty about where the line is going to go.

Here in West Virginia, the state Public Service Commission wrapped up the last of its public comment hearings last week in Buckhannon.  Prepared testimony similar to what the Sierra Club filed in Virginia is due from commission staff and intervenors by Nov. 17. Formal evidentiary hearings are set — for now at least — to start on Feb. 8.