Energy officials announced Tuesday they will re-examine a decision to declare a large swath of the mid-Atlantic and two Southwest states a priority area for new power lines – a nod to those fighting proposed lines in their communities.
The Energy Department said it would grant a rehearing on its October decision to declare two areas of the country as “national interest electric transmission corridors,” a new legal designation designed to foster greater power line construction in order to ease the threat of blackouts.
Local groups often resist such proposed lines in their communities, saying they are ugly, unnecessary, and diminish the quality of life. Advocates for the corridor law say it’s necessary to avoid future blackouts as the nation’s energy grid ages and demand for electricity rises.
The mid-Atlantic power corridor runs from Virginia and Washington, D.C. north to include most of Maryland, all of New Jersey and Delaware and large sections of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Southwest corridor consists of seven counties in southern California and three in Arizona.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine welcomed the announcement, saying he hoped the federal government “will honor the historic and traditional right of the state to make these decisions.”
In authorizing a rehearing, federal officials do not plan further public meetings on the subject, but will instead analyze internally each specific objection to their decision.
“To give these requests full consideration, (the Energy Department) will take additional time to thoroughly evaluate the basis of their requests,” said agency spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero. She added that the original decision was based on “sound data and analysis showing that there is persistent electricity transmission congestion within the corridors.”
If the department review concludes with officials rejecting specific objections, the last option for power corridor opponents is to file lawsuits.
The issue of power lines has been a hot topic in central New York for more than a year, as local groups seek to prevent the construction of a 190-mile high-voltage transmission line from the Utica area to the suburbs north of New York City, called New York Regional Interconnect. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had requested the rehearing.
Under the energy corridor map announced by federal authorities, a major power line could be approved by Washington if state authorities fail to approve it after a year. Such a decision would mark the first time the federal government assumed that type of authority over what has historically been regarded as a state decision.
By Devlin Barrett
4 December 2007
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