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Allegheny: More lines, cleaner energy

Oct 22, 2007 - J. Miles Layton - The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va. - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

The watchdog that oversees North America's power grid says the full promise of renewable fuels cannot be harnessed without first building more power lines that can carry this cleaner energy to consumers.

In an annual report released last week, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. said electricity use is growing twice as fast as the resources used to generate and transmit it, and that power companies will need significantly more transmission capacity to ensure high levels of service reliability.

The report said government rules requiring a certain percentage of electricity to be from renewable sources will require massive investments in transmission capacity.

"Renewable energy initiatives can't succeed unless new transmission infrastructure is also built," the group's president, Rick Sergel, said. "You can't have one without the other."

The report mentions the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line project.

"The report reinforces our position on TrAIL," said Allen Staggers, Allegheny spokesman. "Demand for electricity is growing and there is a need to expand the bulk transmission system to ensure reliability."

The Halleck Community Association opposes the power line. Vice President John Balasko said the corporation's report ignores reality.

"It is reports such as this that keeps me going because they are full of half-truths, and they are heavily biased toward transmission solutions and ignore other more logical solutions to the perceived reliability problems," he said.

The report said lagging investment in transmission resources has been an ongoing concern for a number of years. The utility industry expects to spend $38.1 billion on transmission projects from now until 2010, compared with $37.8 billion spent since 2000.

"More investment is required, as each peak season puts more and more strain on the transmission system, especially in constrained areas such as the Northeast, California and southwestern U.S., as well as parts of Ontario, Canada," the report said.

Balasko counters that the major players in the national energy policy debate should come up with a better solution than just adding transmission lines.

"The energy companies and their transmission colleagues at the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PJM Transmission [the regional power grid operator] and NERC have a myopic, short-term view of how a 'perceived' reliability problem can be solved," he said. "If these agencies and organizations were to spend one-half as much energy and money on alternative solutions to reducing energy consumption our 'problem' would be solved overnight."

Staggers said power-grid reliability is everyone's problem. He cited a 2006 study by the Edison Foundation that said despite conservation efforts, "the reality is that our nation's appetite for electricity continues to grow, and electric utilities must be able to make the necessary investments to meet this growing demand.

"We have a short-term problem -- potential reliability problems as soon as 2011," he said. "That is a short time for utility infrastructure projects. Allegheny supports energy conservation. But these measures are largely voluntary, and more importantly, they take time to implement and even more time to produce results. Experts agree -- new transmission lines are needed to keep the lights on for years to come."

Balasko does not oppose the idea of using more renewable energy, only the means needed to transmit that energy.

"The idea of using more renewable energy to satisfy our needs is a good one," he said. "That does not mean that we will stop mining coal and receiving tax benefits and other benefits in the state. What it means is that the growth of transmission lines and fossil fuel generation stations will be curtailed until clean technologies are developed and tested on a large scale."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Updated: 2016/06/30

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