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Utility line to be rebuilt

By Matt Murphy, Local government writer

Come late fall, Appalachian Power Co. is scheduled to begin construction on a $173 million project to rebuild about 30 miles of major transmission line in Kanawha County, some of which dates to the 1920s.

The line to be rebuilt is in two sections — a northern component and a southern component — and the upgrade will be the first the line has seen in about 40 years.

The northern section extends from the John Amos Power Plant in Putnam County to North Charleston via Cross Lanes and the area between Tyler Mountain and Dunbar.

The southern section extends from the utility’s Turner substation in Institute to Cabin Creek. From west to east, the line crosses the Kanawha River and crosses Smith Creek Road, the Ruth area, Kanawha State Forest and the Hernshaw area before reaching its terminus. A major extension of that line runs east and north of Kanawha State Forest to the utility’s Chesterfield Avenue substation in Kanawha City.

The northern and southern sections are connected in Institute.

Nearly all the work will take place in the existing line’s right-of-way, except for the section from Hernshaw to Cabin Creek, which is planned to be built on a new right-of way.

Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said the section on the new alignment will mean the existing line will be removed. In addition, the relocation will put much of the line out of the visible range of the West Virginia Turnpike near Chelyan.

“The net result is that this part of the project . . . is that we’ll actually have fewer structures, and really, I think, less disturbance,” he said.

Both the lines themselves and the towers will be replaced. The new 138 kilovolt, double-circuit towers will be 130 feet high — 30 feet taller than what exists currently.

The work is technically being performed by AEP West Virginia Transmission Company — another subsidiary of Appalachian Power’s parent company, American Electric Power.

The utility says the line rebuild is actually being mandated by PJM Interconnection, which oversees “the movement of wholesale electricity” between 13 states in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions.

Due to the planned closure of the Kanawha Valley Plant — a coal-fired power plant in Glasgow — in 2015, PJM says the Kanawha Valley line must be upgraded by the end of 2016 in order to be able to handle increased electric flows along that route, according to AEP’s filings with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The plant — along with 11 others — is being closed by AEP after it was determined to be too costly to retrofit the plants to comply with new emissions regulations scheduled to take effect next year.

The commission approved the transmission line project in January.

While the project is expensive, Moye and earlier press releases from AEP said the cost for the project will be spread out across the states covered by PJM. Thus, the average Appalachian Power residential customer will see a bump of about 15 cents per month.

The utility has not yet filed for a rate increase related to the project.

“The thing that’s different with this project . . . is that a lot of this work — most of it, if not all of it — is being undertaken at the direction of PJM,” Moye said. “Appalachian Power customers won’t see nearly the full cost of the work that’s going to take place.”

Moye said the utility has been working with property owners near the transmission line to let those people know when and where work will take place.

“It won’t be a surprise to anyone,” he said.

Once work begins, the utility will need to construct temporary access roads in some areas, but Moye said those locations haven’t been finalized yet.

The project will have a tax impact as well, with Kanawha County officials projecting to receive $2.5 million annually in public utility tax, though a percentage of that amount may need to be directed to the Kanawha County Board of Education.

“If those funds come in, we’ll put them to good use,” Commission President Kent Carper said. “It’s a huge amount of money.”

However, while the county will receive new tax revenue from the transmission line, it may lose some property tax revenue from the Kanawha River Plant once that plant closes. The town of Glasgow is projected to lost $197,000 in business and occupation taxes, according to a 2013 estimate.

Carper said he would prefer not closing the plant at all, particularly because the coal used at the Kanawha River Plant is sourced locally, while some of the coal at John Amos comes from outside West Virginia, he said.


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