SHEPHERDSTOWN — Opponents of a proposed high-powered transmission line that would have crossed three states are celebrating an announcement this week that the project has been shelved.
The board of managers for regional transmission grid operator PJM Interconnection this week removed the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline project from its 15-year plan, citing declining electricity demands.
“It’s mission accomplished for us,” said Robin Huyett Thomas, president of StopPATH WV, a Jefferson County citizens’ group that maintained that decreased electricity demand, improved peak-use demand management, and new generation planned for the East Coast eliminated arguments for the 765-kV transmission line’s construction.
The $2.1 billion PATH transmission line was planned in 2007 to deliver electricity from a coal-fired generation plant to East Coast load centers. The 275 mile-long line would have run from a plant in St. Albans to a new 42-acre substation in Frederick County, Md., first passing through northern Virginia. StopPATH WV, Inc. was formed in 2009 and received more than $50,000 in donations, according to a statement from the organization.
PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said from the beginning of planning for the project the economy has been a factor in electrical demand.
“The problems that were identified have been pushed out beyond our planning timeframe,” Dotter said. “We only look out about 15 years, so we did not see problems on the system given all of that. If the world changes the plan changes.”
StopPATH member Karyn Newman hailed PJM’s decision as a victory for ratepayers and citizens who questioned the need for the project from the beginning.
“The company should have known since 2007 that project was unnecessary because experts from the Sierra Club and the Piedmont Environmental Council demonstrated it was unnecessary,” Newman said. “They just didn’t want to listen.”
Newman said she has continued tracking PATH expenses being billed to ratepayers. By the end of 2012, Newman estimates, PATH will have collected over $95 million in annual revenue requirements from PJM ratepayers.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission awarded the project a 12.4-percent return-on-equity incentive in 2008. FERC also granted PATH an incentive that allows it to apply to recover an additional $130 million capital investment in the project in the event that it is abandoned and not built. PATH must convince the commission that it had no fault in the abandonment and that all expenditures were prudently incurred.
“The PATH project could end up costing electric consumers nearly a quarter billion dollars by the time it’s all said and done, when you add interest and carrying costs over perhaps four decades. The consumers, however, will see absolutely no benefit from the money they have spent,” Newman said in a statement.
“We are thrilled that we don’t have to have this hanging over our heads any more. The sad part is all of the money that got spent on it,” she said. “This makes everyone’s electric bill go up.”
Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said only prudently incurred costs will be recovered and would not acknowledge that Newman’s figures were accurate.
“We will have to do a cost recovery filing to FERC,” Meyers said. “We will only know then the amount of cost to be recovered.”
Meyers said recovering costs is an allowable part of doing business because no company would take on a project that is as expensive as a large transmission line (without it.)
“There are many risks associated with that,” he said, citing a possible regulatory denial of the project. He said no one would attempt such projects without this assurance.
“(Cost recovery) will be spread across the entire PJM area, because they all would have benefited from PATH, had there been a need for it.”
Huyett Thomas acknowledged that there will continue to be costs associated with the cancellation of the project, but noted they are less than if the project had been able to go forward.
“Unfortunately when projects are cancelled, there are costs to dismantle the project,” she said. “In this case the government allows the utility to pass those on to the rate payer if the utility is not responsible for the cancellation of the project. While I do not like ratepayers having to absorb the cost of cancellation of the project, those costs are less than if the project were to be built in its entirety.”
Thomas said she was grateful for the efforts of everyone who contributed in the effort to topple the transmission line project.
“We thank all those who, from the first state filing for this project in 2009, stood up and voiced their opposition, asking our politicians, federal and state agencies to look to the future, rather than build for the past,” Huyett Thomas said. n“This was very much a David versus Goliath struggle, however it demonstrated that citizens banding together and fully participating in our democratic processes can change the course of history.”