CITIZEN JOURNALISM: High-voltage opposition to a power plan

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Many Marylanders, Virginians and West Virginians are finding themselves in a real-life David-and-Goliath battle with American Electric Power Co. Inc. (AEP) and Allegheny Energy Inc. over the proposed PATH power line.

This is not your average power line, the residents opposed to it contend.

The power companies want to construct PATH (Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline) with 765-kilovolt lines, the largest there is, and with towers as high as 200 feet, the size of a 20-story building. The project could cut a construction right-of-way swath as wide as 2,200 feet, according to the power companies’ request to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

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

According to the power companies’ Web site, “PATH is needed to prevent significant overloads and voltage problems in the region.” The companies also state in public meetings that PJM Interconnection LLC, the regional grid operator, has asked them to construct the line.

However, thousands of residents in all three states fiercely oppose the proposal, not convinced that “need” is the underlying motivation for the $1.8 billion project.

Keryn Newman, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., resident, shared her take on the subject in a recent letter in the monthly 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.”

“In reality, PATH is not a sincere effort to strengthen America’s power grid,” said Kirsten Weiblen of Hampshire County, W.Va.

In Virginia, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors stated in a resolution of opposition against PATH: “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 Public Service Commission Chairman Michael A. 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 would cut through their state.

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

The resolution from Loudoun County also says the proposal “raises public fears about health risks … .”

For example, some parents are fearful of the possible threat of childhood leukemia and other health risks being imposed upon their children from electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and extremely-low-frequency (ELF) radiation exposure from the power lines and substations. Marylanders say they are concerned that 1,300 homes, one children’s center and two elementary schools are in close proximity to the proposed substation site, according to the CAKES Web site.

Jefferson County, W.Va., residents also are concerned about two of their schools being close to the line.

At a recent PATH information meeting in Sissonville, W.Va., Allegheny Energy’s EMF expert, Bill Bailey, stated, “I would be more concerned about my child getting Lyme disease than being harmed by EMF exposure.”

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