Managers of the Mid-Atlantic power grid approved yesterday a $1.8 billion transmission line project that could bring less-expensive electricity into Maryland from West Virginia, but the potential benefits are at least five years away.
The high-capacity power line will stretch 290 miles from a substation near St. Albans, W.Va., to a substation in Kemptown, in Frederick County. The project is a joint venture between Allegheny Energy Inc., which serves Western Maryland, and American Electric Power, an Ohio utility that owns a coal-fired power plant near the western end of the proposed power line.
PJM Interconnection, which manages the power grid for Maryland and 12 other states, signed off on the Allegheny project and separate 130-mile line that will connect northeastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey. The Pennsylvania project is a joint venture of three utilities operating in that region.
PJM's approval is an essential early step for the projects, which also will require approvals from utility commissions in each of the respective states. Completion of the Maryland project isn't expected until 2012.
"This will afford new opportunities for additional sources of [power] generation to reach the Mid-Atlantic market," said Allen Staggers, a spokesman for Allegheny Energy.
Maryland utility regulators and PJM officials have been sounding the alarm in recent years about a lack of transmission lines throughout the region. Congestion on existing lines has contributed to higher electricity prices in Maryland, which must import about 30 percent of its power from other states.
PJM officials said the two transmission projects combined will eliminate about $450 million of congestion-related costs.
The lines also could go a long way toward ensuring that the lights stay on in the Mid-Atlantic. PJM says the West Virginia-to-Maryland line will reduce the risk of overloads on 13 existing transmission lines in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The 13 lines are projected to begin experiencing overloads as early as 2012.
The potential to bring cheap, coal-based energy from the West is of particular interest in Maryland, where Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers were hit with a 50 percent rate increase this month.
Opinions vary on how much relief the power line will provide, assuming it gets built. Utility customers will have to pay for the line through higher rates, and the additional electricity will only go so far toward alleviating rising prices within the PJM wholesale power market.
"It won't solve all the problems, but maybe it's a step in the right direction," said Kenneth Rose, an energy consultant in Columbus, Ohio.
Getting the line built could prove difficult given recent experience. Landowners have protested a proposed 240-mile transmission line that would extend from Pennsylvania to parts of West Virginia and Northern Virginia. Allegheny also is involved in that project. Opposition to transmission projects can add years to the approval process, which usually takes longer than the actual construction.
However, a provision in the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 may make it easier to get such projects completed, regardless of whether states and environmental groups approve.
The act directed the Energy Department to designate "national interest electric transmission corridors" in which federal energy regulators could essentially overrule state officials to permit the construction of power lines. One of the proposed corridors covers much of Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic.
Details of two proposals for major Mid-Atlantic power transmission lines that are expected to be brought before state regulators:
West Virginia to Maryland
John Amos coal-fired power plant near St. Albans, W.Va.
Substation to be built near Damascus, Md.
American Electric Power Co. and Allegheny Energy Inc.
765 kilovolts through West Virginia; twin 500-kilovolt lines in Maryland
Pennsylvania to New Jersey
Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick, Pa.
Roseland substation near Newark, N.J.
PPL Corp., FirstEnergy Corp. and Public Service Electric and Gas Co.
[Source: PJM Interconnection via Associated Press]