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Utilities Withdraw PATH Power Line Applications

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Economic forecasts showing weaker-than-expected demand for electricity in Mid-Atlantic states prompted two utilities Monday to suspend plans to build a $2 billion power line from West Virginia to Maryland.

American Electric Power’s and FirstEnergy Corp.’s decision followed a request by PJM Interconnection that they suspend work on the 765-kilowatt line. PJM oversees the electric grid for a 13-state region.

To comply with the request, the utilities said they would file notices with regulatory agencies in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland to withdraw their construction applications. Officials in each agency confirmed the filings.

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, known as PATH, was originally envisioned to meet expectations of growing demand for electricity in the region. Officials predicted that if the line wasn’t built, the region would suffer from brownouts and blackouts.

The project, proposed in 2007, was initially to be completed by June 1, 2012. But due to economic conditions, the timetable slipped to 2013, then 2015, said Mike Kormos, PJM’s senior vice president for operations.

Now, the 275-mile project is on hold indefinitely, said Jeri Matheney, a spokeswoman for AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power.

“It will be off the table for quite some time because PJM is doing a thorough review of the need for the project,” she said.

The decision didn’t surprise Keryn Newman, who is a member of Stop Path WV Inc.

“It reinforces what we’ve been saying for nearly three years that this project isn’t really needed,” she said.

At least 250 groups, representing landowners, The Sierra Club, local county commissions and boards of education opposed the project.

“It cost citizens a lot of time and money. They (utilities) have spent a ton of money buying land,” Newman said.

All work on the project will stop and the utilities will cease efforts to purchase land for the line’s right of way, Matheney said.

The line would run from AEP’s John Amos plant in West Virginia, across three counties in northern Virginia, to a substation near Kemptown, Md.

Monday’s action was the latest blow to the project.

West Virginia Public Service Commission staff twice recommended that it be scrapped. The latest objection was in December.

The Maryland Public Service Commission rejected a PATH application in 2009 saying it was improperly filed. The application was filed by the PATH Allegheny Transmission Company LLC. The commission said it could only issue permits to electric companies. The application was refiled.

PJM’s Kormos said it is too early to predict if the project will be revised. For now, the future is uncertain because of the economy and proposed federal regulations that could affect power generation.

“Part of the analysis we want to do is to develop a more rigorous outlook on what the future should be,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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