- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Washington area was designated one of two locations in the country most prone to power interruptions and blackouts because of inadequate electric-transmission facilities in an action yesterday by the Department of Energy.

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said studies have shown the Baltimore-Washington area by 2011 is likely to experience power disruptions like those that plagued California in 2001 because demand for electricity to power computers and other appliances is growing much faster than the capacity of the grid to supply consumers.

“These types of projections indicate an increasing risk of significant problems — such as involuntary service curtailments and even rolling blackouts,” he said. “Some areas, most notably in California, have experienced this firsthand in recent years.”

Virginia’s Dominion Power Co. has warned about the possibility of rolling blackouts if it is not able to build a new transmission line it is planning into the Washington area from western Pennsylvania.

Under the designation announced yesterday, Dominion could ask the federal government to overrule opposition from various communities in Virginia and back its plan.

The Mid-Atlantic corridor would run north from Virginia and the District of Columbia and include most of Maryland, all of New Jersey and Delaware, and large swaths of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It includes not only the congested East Coast Corridor between Washington and New York, but also areas west of the cities that have surplus power capacity that potentially could help relieve congestion.

The designation of the Mid-Atlantic region with California and the Southwest as “national interest electric transmissions corridors,” Mr. Bodman said, is “an important indication by the federal government that, at a regional level, a significant transmission constraint or congestion problem exists — one that could adversely affect consumers and that has advanced to the point where we have a national interest in trying to alleviate it.”

Aside from assuring the reliability of power in an age in which everyone is dependent on computers, Mr. Bodman said he is concerned about the safety and security of a strained power grid like the Mid-Atlantic’s at a time when terrorists in Iraq and other countries have been targeting power lines, imposing blackouts and hardship on millions of people.

“We cannot ignore the threat of terrorism that our country continues to face. Improving the physical security of our grid is a very significant challenge,” he said.

The designations are the first of their kind under a 2005 law designed to relieve bottlenecks in the electricity grid. The Energy Department will be holding hearings on the designation in the Washington area, New York and California.

The designation, after a 60-day comment period, gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to overrule state and local governments in making transmission siting decisions if it is in the national interest.

It could help private companies such as Dominion obtain permits from state regulators or enable them to work in conjunction with regional groups to build new lines.

Utilities in the Washington area, New York, California and other states often complain that state and local authorities are reluctant to approve new lines because of local opposition, often galvanized by environmentalists and community activists. That has prevented major new transmission projects on the East and West coasts for decades.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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