PUC approves segment of multi-state power line

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The state Public Utility Commission yesterday approved a 1.2-mile segment of a high-voltage power line that would begin in Greene County and provide power to the mid-Atlantic region.

By a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved a plan by Allegheny Energy to construct a 500-kilovolt power line from a new substation to be built in Dunkard, Greene County, to West Virginia and ending in Virginia.

The decision by the Pennsylvania commission was the last approval needed for the controversial $1 billion, 240-mile project.

In his dissent, commission Vice Chairman Tyrone J. Christy said the power line would do little to benefit local consumers.

"It is clear that customers in Western Pennsylvania will receive little in return for the siting of these lines in their back yards except upward pressure on the price they will pay for generation and transmission," he said. "I cannot support a project that imposes all of the costs and none of the benefits on one segment of the public."

The decision bucks a recommendation in September from two PUC administrative law judges that advised against it, calling the project a profit-driven attempt to ship "cheaper coal-fired generation" along an "energy superhighway" to the east.

The commission was apparently swayed by an agreement reached in late September by Greene County commissioners and the Greensburg-based utility. It called for the company to abandon its plans for another power station and a 36-mile power line extending from Greene County to North Strabane in Washington County.

Part of that agreement required the utility company to pay Greene County $750,000 and return easements purchased over the last 30 years from local property owners, many of whom challenged the validity of the easements in court.

In a related 3-2 vote, the commission voted to approve a request by Allegheny Power to delay a decision about the 36-mile line into Washington County. Utility company officials say they wanted a stay so they could work on an alternative proposal.

The company has said the new power lines were needed in Washington County to address growing local demand, though the two PUC judges said they saw no drastic need for new power transmission in the area.

Janice Crompton can be reached at jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 724-223-0156.


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