As our country continues to push for medical advancements, technological improvements and a sustainable quality of life, there is one common thread that ties these successes together – reliable electric power.
Each of us is impacted every day by electric transmission. We power multiple appliances and technologies in our homes and businesses. We expect to flip the switch and have the lights come on. But our current transmission grid is quickly reaching maximum capacity. Without new, reliable sources of electric energy that can handle increased demands, we are susceptible to regional voltage reductions (brownouts) and blackouts.
If this happens, it would not only be an inconvenience; it would have a crippling effect on our struggling economy and our everyday lives.
American Electric Power (AEP) and Allegheny Energy have partnered on a joint venture to build a new high-voltage, interstate transmission line. The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline Project, or PATH, is a proposed 276 total line mile, single 765-kV transmission line that will go through West Virginia, cross into northern Virginia and end in western Maryland. PATH is part of the solution to some of the top energy experts’ plea for a new transmission system that will prevent looming reliability concerns.
The 765-kV transmission line offers the greatest load-carrying capacity currently in operation in the United States. It minimizes land use impacts and greatly reduces line loss that occurs over long distances. At this voltage, several times the power of lower voltage lines can be transmitted over long distances with only 200 feet right of way. 765-kV transmission offers greater reliability due to its line design, and with only one line outage per 100-mile year, its reliability surpasses all other voltage classes.
The use of this technology for PATH prevails over any other feasible option, yet there are lingering questions regarding the use of HVDC underground lines. HVDC cables are only considered when no other feasible options exist. Significant lengths of HVDC cable are underwater where future interconnections are not a factor. These cables consume a significant amount of energy, and require large, complex and very expensive multi-story structures. Additionally, no transmission line of this length, voltage or capacity has ever been placed underground. Also, the cost of an underground system adds significantly to the overall project cost – as much as 10 to 20 times – and those additional costs could be allocated to the locale requiring such use. In my experience, this is not a viable option for Virginia ratepayers.
Although only a small portion of the line will be located in Virginia everyone will benefit from the project. PATH will help ensure our regional power supply can handle increased demand and foster the development and transmission of renewable resources by helping to carry energy to consumers across our region.
As a former chairman of the Virginia State Corporation Commission, I recognize how critical PATH is to our future. We should not wait for our current system to fail before we make the decision to ensure our quality of life through a new, reliable power source for our region’s future energy needs.
I encourage all members of the public to visit PATH’s Web site (www.pathtransmission.com) to learn more.
Theodore V. Morrison is the former chairman of the Virginia State Corporation Commission.