The final round of hearings begin this week over the controversial high-voltage power line proposal that Allegheny Energy will attempt to prove is vitally important for Southwestern Pennsylvania.
As many as 26 expert witnesses are expected to testify during the three-week long technical evidentiary hearings, which will debate the need for the project and explain the routing of the line.
The state Public Utility Commission hearings will aid the regulatory agency as it decides whether to approve Allegheny Energy’s plans to build a portion of the 500-kilovolt Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line in Pennsylvania.
Thirty-seven miles of the high-voltage line and three 138-kV lines are planned for construction in Washington and Greene counties. Another segment of the project would take power 210 miles from a substation in southern Greene County, through West Virginia and into Loudoun County, Va. Allegheny Energy officials have said the $1.3 billion project is needed to avoid regional power failures.
The hearings will be held on the 16th floor of the state office building at 300 Liberty Ave. in Pittsburgh. The first day of testimony Monday begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. The hearings will begin at 9 a.m. the rest of the week.
“The public is welcome to be there as long as they understand they’re members of the audience at this point,” PUC spokeswoman Denise DiNunzio said. “It’s a formal hearing.”
Somerset Township resident Laurie Nicholl, who lives near the proposed line and is a member of a local opposition group, hopes the hearings will spark a large turnout of affected residents.
“The PUC and Allegheny Power need to know we are following this very closely and interested in what the expert witnesses have to say,” Nicholl said.
The proceedings will be broken into two phases. Allegheny Energy must prove there is a need for the line and explain the routing of the power lines.
Allegheny Energy will have at least 19 company employees, regional electrical grid officials and other consultants testifying on behalf of the TrAIL project. The company originally planned for only 10 people to testify when it filed the proposal last April.
“As the case has progressed, there have been some issues that (the opponents) raised along the way and we have retained some additional consultants,” Allegheny Energy spokesman Doug Colafella said.
Three expert witnesses from the Energy Conservation Council and one each from the state offices of the Consumer Advocate and Trial Staff will testify against the project.
The witnesses will submit their written testimony into the public record and lawyers from both sides will be able to question and cross-examine them.
These evidentiary hearings are one of the final steps before PUC administrative law judges Mark A. Hoyer and Michael A. Nemec make their recommendation to the commission in the summer. The commission is then expected in September to approve, reject or alter the proposal.
“I think the residents continue to feel as though they’re under attack,” Nicholl said. “This is a long and exhausting process, and the stress is very high.
By Michael Jones
23 March 2008
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