Plans by two big utilities to build a $1.8 billion transmission line from West Virginia to Maryland stumbled this past week when officials said it might not be needed as soon as once expected because of less-robust electricity demand.
Utilities had believed the 275-mile Appalachian line would be needed by 2012 or 2013, but it now looks like 2016 is a more likely date, said Allegheny Energy Inc. and American Electric Power Co., the proposed builders of the line.
On Wednesday, representatives of Allegheny appeared before a hearing judge in Virginia and requested that it be allowed to withdraw its application and refile later, possibly by the end of 2010, after more work was done on energy-use forecasts.
A hearing judge at the Virginia Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, deferred a decision until more information is available.
Environmentalists are fighting the project. "This line is a conduit for coal-fired power," said Rob Marmet, an attorney for Piedmont Environmental Council in Warrenton, Va. "But even if it were being built for wind power, we'd oppose it because it is not necessary."
Although federal energy regulators say improvements are needed to the nation's high-voltage electric system, utilities must prove that specific projects are needed for reliability purposes or they aren't granted the certificates of public convenience and necessity that are required to seize land through condemnation proceedings.
An increase in state programs for energy efficiency and locally generated power, such as from solar panels, are reshaping projections of future energy demand.
AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said the utility partners intend to wait until late in 2010, when the regional grid authority, PJM Interconnection LLC, will have updated its energy-demand forecasts. "We continue to believe the project will be needed, but maybe not as soon as we had originally thought," she said.
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