A Dirty Power Transmission Line Comes to Its End

electricity transmission grid photo

Photo credit: Sierra Club

"I'm absolutely affected by the air quality. My house is downwind of this coal plant, as is the Shenandoah National Park. This should be a pristine area, but the air quality is so poor that there are often health alerts issued. The air quality is sometimes worse than it is in downtown Washington, D.C."

Those are the words of Evan Clark, a resident of Winchester, Virginia, speaking about the great decision made last week to suspend the proposed Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH.

This is great news for clean energy advocates—as the proposed PATH is a $2 billion proposal to build a 275-mile long 765-kV transmission line starting at the John Amos coal-fired power plant in West Virginia, which would go through West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.State officials suspended the PATH project in order to further analyze its potential need.

As predicted by the Sierra Club's experts, the new analysis by PJM Interconnection (the regional grid operator) revealed that the PATH line will not be needed in 2015 as AEP and Allegheny Energy—the PATH proposers—had previously claimed. In response to this decision from PJM, AEP and Allegheny Energy withdrew pending applications for the PATH line.

"What was offensive about this to me, is that this power line would have connected the cheapest form of energy (coal) to the highest rate paying customers they can find, up in New Jersey, just for profit," said Clark, who also serves on city council in Winchester, Virginia.

"I think that the construction of power lines should be only approved when they're definitely needed, and not just because some power companies want to make more money for shareholders."

Even more offensive to Clark and many others against this plan? The health effects of continuing to burn more coal, as he pointed out in his quote at the opening of this column. Coal's air pollution includes mercury, smog, soot and many other toxic emissions, which cause lung disease, heart disease, child developmental problems and more.

Sierra Club helped to turn out local activists—including Clark—at both of the recent hearings on PATH in Virginia, and has been working with Piedmont Environmental Council, Earthjustice and other allies to defeat this project for some five years now.

"One great lesson here is that when enough people raise a concern, and the issues that are presented carry enough weight, the body that makes these decisions does listen to us," said Clark.

That is very reassuring, and I'm happy to write about this decision now, as it was the first topic I blogged on for Treehugger almost a year ago. It's great to see such progress.

Clark is concerned that AEP and Allegheny Energy will come back with the PATH plan again in the future, but for now he's thrilled to see this victory for clean energy and clean air.

Read more about the power grid:
US Electric Grid Not Keeping Up With Renewable Energy Growth
NPR's Interactive Power Grid Map Shows Who's Got the Power
Electric Cars Won't Bring the Power Grid Down!

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