Allegheny Energy power line path is mostly rural
Allegheny Energy Inc. said Friday that most of its planned $1.3 billion Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line will be built in heavily wooded, rural areas and that failure to build it will result in blackouts and brownouts in only a few years.
Attempting to dispel what the company calls "myths" over privacy rights and aesthetic and health issues, officials invited reporters to board a helicopter yesterday to fly over a 37-mile portion of the power-line route in Washington and Greene counties. The remainder of the 240-mile route extends into West Virginia and Virginia.
From 700 feet above the ground, rolling hills and wooded areas were predominant along the proposed route. A few homes dotted the mostly grassy landscape, which contained some farmland.
Allegheny Energy already controls about 90 percent of the right-of-way for the project, spokesmen said. The Greensburg-based energy company is negotiating with 600 to 650 property owners or people who own 250 to 275 individual pieces of property within 500 feet of the center line of the right-of-way.
"We're not putting it in people's yards. ... We've contacted most of the property owners. We want to offer fair value for their land and not ever get to eminent domain," said Jay Ruberto, director of transmission siting for the company.
"For the most part, it's very rural," said Jim Haney, vice president of transmission for Allegheny Energy, flying in a helicopter above the route.
A group of opponents, known as "Stop the Towers," has formed to fight the project.
"What they're proposing is so much more than you would need for the alleged problem. It seems to be driven more by the profit motive, instead of real need," said attorney Wil Burns, who represents the Energy Conservation Council, a nonprofit group affiliated with Stop the Towers.
Burns said he believes the project will impact Allegheny Energy's transmission and generation rates, with costs passed on to customers and businesses.
"It's imperative to flush out what the rate increases will be and its effect on keeping businesses here," he said.
Burns said the state Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a pair of hearings at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
The helicopter tour yesterday was almost four years to the date of the widespread blackout Aug. 14, 2003, which plunged much of the Northeast -- roughly 50 million people -- into darkness.
Allegheny Energy says growing demand for power in the Mid-Atlantic region could trigger blackouts, rolling blackouts and brownouts as early as 2011.
The company's answer is the TrAIL project -- a high-voltage, power-line project stretching 240 miles from Southwest Pennsylvania through West Virginia before ending in Loudoun County, Va., near Washington, D.C., and linking with Dominion Virginia Power.
"We've been talking about this (TrAIL project) for 18 months, and we thought it would be good for (media) people to see the project up close and personal. There's a lot of misconceptions out there. We're not going over or through neighborhoods and schools," said spokesman David Neurohr.
He said a project of this magnitude cannot be built underground because of limited, unproven technology and significantly higher costs. Permanent, easy access is necessary for maintenance or repairs and underground cables require excavation that could severely impact streams and wetlands.
Allegheny Energy's utility unit, Allegheny Power, serves more than 1.5 million customers in four states, including 710,000 in Pennsylvania.
Allegheny Energy's portion of the total cost is about $850 million, with the project scheduled for completion by 2011, if approved by regulators. Supporters of the project are Allegheny Energy and PJM Interconnection LLC, the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states, including Pennsylvania.
Neurohr said large-scale development in northern Washington County and increased consumption in Southwest Pennsylvania are straining the existing lines.
"The commercial development is explosive ... the world is changing, and electricity consumption is increasing," he said.
Allegheny Energy has signed on as a partner with Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. to build a second power line, known as I-765, which would stretch 500 miles from southwest West Virginia to central New Jersey.