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PATH power line project all but out of juice

Virginia regulators are set to dismiss the application to build the $2.1 billion Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline high-voltage power line, effectively mothballing the project for the foreseeable future.

PATH, a joint venture of Allegheny Energy Co. — now part of FirstEnergy Corp. — and American Electric Power Co., had been in the works for four years. The companies suspended efforts to build the new line in February and asked that their applications be withdrawn in the three states it would have run through — Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. Maryland and West Virginia have already granted the withdrawal requests.

A hearing examiner with the State Corporation Commission of Virginia said Tuesday that regulators should approve a motion to withdraw filed by American Electric Power and FirstEnergy Corp. The SCC must still issue a final order.

“As of now, we have halted nearly all activities related to PATH,” Doug Colafella, FirstEnergy manager of external communications.

The two companies have already spent $120 million on site work, engineering studies and other expenses moving the project forward. Allegheny’s share of the costs was $91 million. Since the project was approved by PJM Interconnection, which regulates the power supply in Maryland and 12 other states and the District of Columbia, the costs are recoverable from all customers in the grid operator’s territory.

The decision to halt the project came at the end of February when PJM cast doubt on its need. The 275-mile long power line would have connected the Amos Substation in West Virginia to a proposed Kemptown substation near Frederick.

PJM officials cited a slower economic recovery as the primary reason for the suspension. PJM initially tasked the companies with building the the765-kilovolt line after an analysis conducted in 2007 showed it would be needed by 2015 to ensure the area met federal reliability standards.

The venture had been strongly opposed by local governments and other groups throughout the permitting process.

The PJM board did not say how long it would suspend the efforts, but did say the project was not being abandoned. Instead, PJM said it would continue its analysis but it is off the list of projects for this year.

“If they [PJM] come back and say we need PATH, then we can get the project back up and running,” Colafella said.

Restarting PATH, though, would require going through the lengthy permitting process at the state and federal level again.

“The investment we’ve already made won’t be lost though, because the project is not lost — just suspended,” Colafella said.

While the PATH project is on hold, FirstEnergy is set to energize another long-term project that was completed, the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL) line. Allegheny Energy started the 500-kilovolt project in 2008 and spent $960 million to run the line from Southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia to Northern Virginia. The line is scheduled to be fully active as of June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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