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Appalachian Power plans power grid upgrades for W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Appalachian Power on Monday announced plans to spend more than $337 million upgrading its electrical grid in West Virginia, with much of the work slated to take place throughout the Kanawha Valley.

The power company plans to rebuild about 52 miles of its existing transmission line network and upgrade several substations over the next three years as part of the project.

The move is due in part to parent company American Electric Power's plans to shutter three coal-fired plants in the state.

The company announced in 2010 that it would permanently retire the Kanawha River Plant at Glasgow, the Philip Sporn Plant at New Haven and the Kammer Plant in Moundsville. The plants will go offline in phases, beginning in 2014.

The closure of the plants will affect the flow of power across the company's transmission grid. Appalachian officials say the $337 million in upgrades are designed to make up for that and to increase reliability across the system.

"The power grid is dynamic, and it will be affected by retirement of existing power plants," APCo president and chief operating officer Charles Patton said in a statement.

"These upgrades not only meet the immediate need to strengthen the grid, but position the region well for growth in the future," Patton said.

While the $337 million project is a statewide plan, the bulk of the work will take place in the Kanawha Valley.

The company will rebuild all its transmission lines and towers running between substations in Nitro and Cabin Creek, as well as loops that run off that network in Cross Lanes and Kanawha City.

Appalachian spokesman Phil Moye said some portions of this system were built as early as the 1920s. The last major work on the system was done nearly 40 years ago.

He said the company hopes for a similar life span with the new system.

"We're building it to continue to be reliable for many years to come," Moye said. "We're constructing those lines and substations in such a way that they'll serve the valley well through their life."

He said most of the new network would make use of existing right-of-way paths, or areas just adjacent to them.

"The places where we see lines and towers now are generally the places where lines and towers will be when the project wraps up," Moye said.

There will be some changes.

The company will build 120-foot transmission towers, in contrast to the current 100-foot towers. Moye said that was because the new lines will be a heavier gauge wire.

He also said the work will consolidate some lines and tower sites.

In some locations, the system uses parallel transmission lines to carry power. The new towers will allow the company to run one set of lines on the top part of the tower and a second set below. 

The combination will result in fewer towers across Kanawha County.

"The net result is that in that area from Institute to Cabin Creek, we're going to be installing somewhere between 85 to 90 towers, but we'll be taking down 200 towers," Moye said.

While about 80 percent of the new towers will be located near existing right-of-way locations, Moye said there will be new locations for some towers near the Cabin Creek area.

The plan is to place some towers on ridges to allow for less obstruction in valleys and increase access for utility crews.

Moye said project planners have worked to minimize the impact on residential areas and keep the new transmission line paths away from homes.

"We're really trying to take everything into consideration and finish this project in the way that has least impact on the people of the valley and yet provides the reliability that we need," he said.

PJM, the region's power grid provider, approved the proposed changes to the transmission system last May.

The company has scheduled informational workshops in Poca and Kanawha City to give the public a chance to review the plans.

The first will take place at Poca High School July 8, with the second to follow July 9 at Kanawha City Elementary. Both events are scheduled to last from 5 to 8 p.m.

The company has also set up a website, located at www.appalachianpower.com/info/projects/MajorPowerLines/KanawhaValley/, to offer more information on the plan. The website includes a Google Maps application that shows residents where their houses are located with respect to the new transmission lines.

Once the workshops are held and other field work completed, Appalachian's transmission affiliate, AEP West Virginia Transmission Co. Inc., will formally file a request with the state Public Service Commission seeking approval to perform the work.

The project is slated to be completed by 2017, though Moye said the bulk of the work will be finished in 2015, prior to the shutdown of the three power plants.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

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