PSC testimony: Power line plan lacking

Allegheny Energy didn’t list environmental protections that have been successful in other projects when it filed an application for its proposed $1.3 billion power line across northern West Virginia, according to testimony filed with the state Public Service Commission.Among other things, Allegheny did not include strong language to limit clear cutting along the transmission line right-of-way, according to testimony filed in the case over the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL.PSC consumer advocate Byron Harris wants the commission to require Allegheny to add a list of additional restrictions that have been used in other power line cases.Harris cited a 1979 PSC case in which longtime commission consumer advocate Billy Jack Gregg won a list of tough restrictions on an Appalachian Power transmission line project.For example, the PSC required Appalachian to “reduce the amount of clearing ... to the minimum required for line construction and line maintenance” and to use “selective clearing techniques.”But in its TrAIL project, Allegheny proposes the transmission line’s 200-foot right-of-way “will be cleared to a nominal width of 150 feet centered on the right-of-way or as deemed necessary for the safe and reliable operation of the line.”Harris told the PSC that this amount of clear cutting was not necessary and would be harmful to the environment.“Clear cutting the entire right of way will not only have negative visual impacts, but will also increase the potential for sedimentation and erosion during construction and during the years subsequent to the line being placed in operation,” Harris said in prepared testimony.The consumer advocate’s views were among the thick stacks of testimony and expert reports that have been submitted in response to Allegheny’s application for commission approval for TrAIL. Allegheny has until Jan. 4 to reply. Lawyers for all sides are spelling out their arguments in anticipation of the Jan. 9 start of formal PSC evidentiary hearings in what is one of the biggest and most controversial commission cases in years.Allegheny, through a company called TrAIL Co., is seeking PSC approval to build the West Virginia portion of the 500-kilovolt line to carry electricity from southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia and into northern Virginia.Power company officials say the line is needed to provide cheap and reliable power to big Eastern cities and their growing suburbs. But the project has drawn intense opposition from hundreds of West Virginians, who fear it will mar scenic views, lower their property values and otherwise damage rural communities.Hundreds of residents turned out to oppose the project at five PSC public hearings in the affected area, which includes parts of Monongalia, Preston, Tucker, Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties.
Commissioners must decide if the power line “will economically, adequately and reliably contribute to meeting the present and anticipated requirements for electric power of the customers served” and if it is “desirable for present and anticipated reliability of service for electric power for its service area or region.”The PSC also must decide if the project “will result in an acceptable balance between reasonable power needs and reasonable environmental factors.”
So far, the PSC staff has recommended the commission reject the Allegheny permit application.One staff expert, economist Michael J. Ileo, testified the power line would cost West Virginians $41.5 million in reduced property values.Harris, the PSC consumer advocate, testified the PSC should require additional protections to limit the effects of the power line on wildlife and vegetation, and to improve the accountability of line maintenance contractors, avoid the use of herbicides in maintenance programs, and reduce noise and radio and television interference.Also, Harris recommended that landowners along the power line route who are forced to give the company rights-of-way be given free electricity for as long as the transmission line remains on their land.“This would provide landowners who have lost the unrestricted right to use their land a continuing benefit from the line that is directly related to the purpose of the line,” Harris testified.In separate testimony filed on behalf of power line opponents, environmental consultant Evan Hansen explained a variety of ways that the project would damage the Three Fork Creek watershed in Preston, Monongalia and Taylor counties.
“Building the towers, access roads, and right-of-way would cause soil erosion and sedimentation of streams and wetlands, which in turn would harm trout, amphibians and other aquatic life,” Hansen testified.Lew McDaniel of the Laurel Run Community Watershed Association testified that a variety of impacts from the power line would affect the local environment and citizens for a long time to come."The power line, if approved, would stand for 30 years, which means 30 years of totally out of place rights-of-way, viewshed-ruining towers, changed plant growth, altered animal behavior, crackling cables, and under the right conditions, electrical discharge that can shock a person," McDaniel testified."Permanent destruction of the intrinsic nature of the watershedto avoid purported grid brownouts that can be rectified in a few hours or days, and are thus temporary inconveniences for those affected by them,is not reasonable."Nor do I find it reasonable to sacrifice increasingly rare rural areas such as the watershed for the sake of growth in other parts of the United States."
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