After an extensive public process, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) last week approved construction of a 500-kV transmission line project running through the northern part of that state.
TrAILCo’s $850 million project—named the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL)—calls for construction of a new 500-kV line extending from southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia and into northern Virginia by 2011.
The Pennsylvania portion will address reliability needs, while segments in West Virginia and Virginia are crucial to prevent overloads—and subsequent rolling blackouts and brownouts—that have been projected as soon as 2011, the company said.
In its ruling last week, the SCC determined that the request proposed jointly by TrAILCo and Dominion Virginia Power met the applicable standards under Virginia law. The two Virginia segments of the so-called “502 Junction-Loudoun” line make up the eastern end of a proposed 240-mile line that will traverse the three states.
The SCC agreed with a recommendation made by its hearing examiner in late July that the need for the line had been proven, and that it would resolve reliability problems projected to occur on the Mt. Storm-Doubs line, an existing high-voltage line, by 2011. The SCC had earlier determined that the anticipated reliability violations on that line must be fixed.
Several opponents of the 502 Junction-Loudoun line had argued that other alternatives, including new generating plants and conservation programs, could eliminate the need for the line. Some urged the SCC to initiate integrated resource planning to determine whether a combination of options would more be more effective than the proposed line in removing the threat to reliable power service for Northern Virginia.
“The reality is, however, that the law and facts applicable to this matter do not enable us to use a transmission line case [to initiate such a planning exercise] and then use the result of that exercise as the legal basis to deny an application … when a clear reliability need has been shown and the proposed transmission line is an acceptable option under Virginia statutes to meet that need,” the SCC said in its final order.
The SCC noted that, by law, the primary responsibility for transmission line planning is given to a regional transmission organization, which Virginia’s electric companies were required to join. PJM, Interconnection LLC, headquartered in Pennsylvania, is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and federal policies prohibit PJM from the type of integrated transmission and generation planning advocated by the opponents.
PJM also controls when new power plants are allowed to interconnect with the regional electricity grid. In this case, PJM testified that federal policies prevent PJM from accelerating the order in which planned generating units are to be built or from ordering construction of a specific unit even when doing so would solve an identified reliability problem and remove the need for a new line. The SCC said, “Since PJM is regulated by FERC, whether these federal rules represent sensible policy is ultimately for Congress to decide.”
One of several alternatives analyzed by the Commission involved the prospect of accelerating construction of the proposed CPV Warren and Possum Point 7 generating plants. The SCC wrote, “As a result of the current development status of these plants and the limitations imposed by PJM … we cannot reasonably assume that these facilities will be available for dispatch [in time].”
Even assuming that PJM would accept these facilities into the grid by 2011, the SCC said, “… they would not solve the problem that establishes the need for this line.”
The SCC explained that the factual evidence shows that even if both these units could realistically be available by then, transmission line overloads would still be present on the Mt. Storm-Doubs line.
The SCC’s order is subject to certain conditions, including regulatory approval, in the other states the TrAIL line will cross prior to its construction in Virginia.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission approved the project in early August. TrAILCo now awaits a decision from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which it expects will be delivered later this year.
Sources: TrAIL, Virginia SCC