Power Line Aimed At Md.

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

A new high-voltage line that would deliver electricity to the growing mid-Atlantic region could stretch across parts of Western Maryland and end just shy of the Montgomery County line under a plan endorsed yesterday by the operator of the region's electricity grid.

The proposed $1.8 billion power line is being billed as an important part of an effort to improve the electric power grid serving the East Coast. It would carry enough electricity to power an estimated 2.5 million homes, making it the highest capacity transmission line in the nation, industry sources said, larger than the controversial Dominion Virginia Power line proposed in Northern Virginia.

The approximately 300-mile transmission line would start at a coal plant in Winfield, W.Va., pass through Bedington, W.Va., and end at a substation to be built in Kemptown, Md.

Its specific route has not been determined, but it would likely cut through environmentally sensitive and historically significant terrain, which includes the Potomac and Kanawha rivers, the scenic Allegheny Highlands and the Civil War battlefields at Antietam and South Mountain.

That concerns local officials, residents and environmentalists who are already voicing opposition, arguing that the new line could threaten the rural character of Frederick and alter scenic areas that local and state governments have spent money protecting.

"It could go through our rural legacy area, which we would oppose," said Jan H. Gardner (D), president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners. "The rural legacy area certainly protects the history of that area, the South Mountain battlefield in that area. . . . It could have impacts on the scenic view shed of Sugarloaf Mountain."

Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection, which controls the electricity transmission grid serving 13 mid-Atlantic states and the District, voted yesterday to authorize two power companies, American Electric Power and Allegheny Energy Inc., to build the line.

By routing electricity from Appalachia and the Midwest to the more densely populated East Coast cities, the line will help relieve overloads that PJM anticipates will occur as early as 2012.

"The Baltimore-Washington area is an area of growing demand and diminishing resources," PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said. "It's all about how to keep the lights on. If a power line will be overloaded, how do you avoid it being overloaded."

The $1.8 billion cost of the power line would be split between all the power companies operating in PJM's network, Dotter said.

In PJM's network, which serves about 51 million people, electricity use is expected to increase by about 17 percent in the next decade, Dotter said. He likened the electricity grid to an interstate highway system and said the new line is akin to a major new interstate, which could help relieve bottlenecks throughout the network.

PJM's vote yesterday opened the process to build the line. The two power companies said they will begin mapping out a detailed route and studying any environmental or other impacts.

Then the companies must present their plan to state regulators in Maryland and West Virginia for approval. But this power line, like the one proposed in Virginia, could test a new law that gives the power companies authority to bypass the states and secure land through the federal government if their services are deemed vital to national energy interests.

American Electric Power spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said the company is "fully committed to work with the state process."

"It's not our intention to circumvent the state," McHenry said.

The first 250 miles of the line between Winfield and Bedington are proposed to be 765,000 volts. For the remainder, between Bedington and Kemptown, it would change to twin 500,000-volt lines.

Along the route would be hundreds of 125-foot towers with cables running in between on a corridor estimated at about 200 feet wide, said Allen Staggers, a spokesman for Allegheny Energy.

Frederick County resident Rolan Clark said he wrote letters of objection to state and federal officials. "Frederick is going to be like a birdcage," he said. "You'll look up and all you'll see is wires."

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has not taken a position on the power line, aides said. Neither has Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), whose Western Maryland district includes the area where the line would end.

Gardner said Frederick commissioners will not take a position on the power line until the route is set.

To protest the Virginia and Maryland lines, environmentalists and residents formed the Mid-Atlantic Area Concerned Citizens Energy Coalition. The group believes that authorities should consider alternative energy options, organizer Barbara Kessinger said.

Executives for the two companies responsible for the new power line issued statements yesterday saying the line is needed to relieve congestion on the existing power grid.

PJM also authorized yesterday a second power line that would run about 130 miles from northeastern Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey. The 500,000-volt line would cost $930 million to construct and would address overloads projected to occur as soon as 2013 in those states.

Both power lines are similar to the Dominion Virginia Power line proposed last year for Northern Virginia. The 500,000-volt Dominion line would wind through Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.

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