PSC drops plan for power line oversight hearing

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA - State regulators have dropped plans to hold a comprehensive oversight hearing before giving final approval for Allegheny Power to start building a $1.1 billion power line across northern West Virginia.

The state Public Service Commission granted Allegheny's request to eliminate the compliance hearing, which was required by the PSC's August ruling approving plans for the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL.

Allegheny lawyers objected that the compliance hearing would have required the company to obtain all necessary environmental permits and other regulatory approvals before it could start construction of any of the 120-mile project.

Under the new PSC ruling, Allegheny can use "phased construction" that breaks the transmission line into smaller segments that obtain separate approvals from various state and federal agencies.

In a 23-page order, commissioners said the PSC could still hear concerns about whether the project had met various other permit requirements — listed as conditions of the overall PSC approval — through its normal review process. "The compliance hearing process duplicates the existing and continuing jurisdiction of the commission to entertain disputes through its formal compliant process on the question of whether compliance has been accomplished," the PSC said.

"The commission believes that both the compliance hearing process and the complaint process will yield equivalent substantive results, but that the complaint process, in conjunction with the phased construction discussed and approved below, may result in more timely final resolution of any compliance issues that may arise."

In its ruling, the commission also turned down requests from the Sierra Club and several citizens to reconsider its overall approval of the TrAIL project.

TrAIL would cross eight counties from north of Morgantown to northern Virginia. In their August approval, PSC commissioners Jon McKinney and Ed Staats concluded the project will help upgrade the regional electrical network and could spur construction of more power plants fired by the state's coal industry. Commission Chairman Michael Albert did not take part in the case, because he did some work on the issue for Allegheny Energy before leaving the Jackson Kelly law firm to join the commission.

The PSC approval can now be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

TrAIL is one of two major power line projects proposed in West Virginia. The other is American Electric Power's Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH, which would run from the John Amos Power Plant near St. Albans to Martinsburg.


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