By Frank Young
Year old and longer predictions that the nearly 300 miles long PATH (Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline) project was dead or dying were not exaggerations. In late August the thirteen state regional electrical grid operator PJM- often referred to as an energy “cartel”- officially cancelled its demand that its member companies American Electric Power (AEP) and First Energy (formerly Allegheny Energy) construct a three-state, 765 Kilovolt electricity transmission line across West Virginia, through Virginia, and into Maryland. PATH was quietly cancelled simply by an August 28th PJM internal letter.
The PJM Board of Managers terminated the PATH project and removed it from the planning process, effective immediately. In a letter to PJM’s Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee, PJM Planning Vice President Steve Herling said that an analysis shows that “reliability drivers no longer exist for the project.”
Herling’s brief letter continued, saying that, “The analyses incorporated the continued trends of decreasing customer load growth, increasing participation in demand response programs and the recent commitment of new generating capacity in eastern PJM”
In other words, and as project opponents have said all along during the course of the three year unsuccessful attempt to get PATH permitted by state regulatory commissions in three states, PJM now admits that the originally claimed needs for such a 200 feet tall and three hundred miles long monstrosity “no longer exist.”
After PJM placed the PATH project in “abeyance” in March, 2011, the project’s many opponents declared then that the estimated $2.2 billion dollar project was “dead”. The llate August PJM announcement is the official declaration that PATH is dead. AEP and First energy cannot fight for continuation the project without the PJM system’s support.
In West Virginia, the PATH case at the WV Public Service Commission (WVPSC) generated approximately 225 interveners (officials parties to a case) against PATH- several times more interveners than had any other case in WVPSC history.
But what does it mean when a giant electrical power transmission project is declared “dead”. The adage that, “You can’t take it with you” apparently does not apply to such projects.
Although the line will not be built, its developers claim to have incurred about $225 million in early project expenses- advertising costs, legal fees, property easement costs, etc. A large and effective citizen group opposing Path- called StopPATH WV- has gotten involved in the process that will decide how much of that $225 million will be allocated to electricity ratepayers.
According to StopPATH WV member and leader Keryn Newman, by the end of 2012 PATH will have already collected more than $95 million from PJM region ratepayers since PATH was awarded a 12.4 percent “incentive return on equity” authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2008.
Reportedly the PATH partners also may be allowed to recover an additional $130 million in capital investment in the project, if they convince FERC that they had no fault in the abandonment of the project 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,” Newman said.
So while PATH is dead, its memory lives on in the pocket books of ratepayers, and in the bank accounts and financial statements of AEP and First energy.