Sierra Club expects state electric rates to skyrocket

CHARLESTON – West Virginians will pay the highest electric rates in the nation if Congress enacts a carbon tax and West Virginia doesn't diversify its power supply, Sierra Club lawyer William DePaulo told the Supreme Court of Appeals.

DePaulo said 95 percent of West Virginia's electric power comes from coal compared to 50 percent nationally.

He said a carbon tax of $10 a ton would cost Allegheny Power $450 million a year.

"Allegheny will go bankrupt with that," he said during the April 29 hearing. "They've got to pass it through."

He urged the Justices to block construction of transmission lines that the Public Service Commission approved for Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Company, but he failed to persuade them. The Justices refused to hear the case by a 4-1 vote. Justice Margaret Workman would have granted a hearing.

The lines would run through Monongalia, Preston, Tucker, Grant, Hampshire and Hardy counties.

The Public Service Commission approved two separate lines. The Sierra Club appealed one and Thomas Hildebrand appealed the other "pro se," without a lawyer.

At the hearing, Hildebrand said more than 6,000 persons objected to the lines at hearings and in letters.

He said the commission must find a need and balance interests before approving new lines. He said the commission jumped to the balancing without finding need.

He said the applicant's dire predictions of rolling blackouts were pure speculation.

He said the lines would supply power as far as New Jersey.

"We're paying the price so New Jersey can have cheaper power," he said. "We export 70 percent of our power out of state."

He said a rush to approval led to errors. He said demand for power has dropped.

He said it was time to look at alternatives.

For the Sierra Club, DePaulo said the commission rejected alternatives because it expected a need for new power in 2011.

"We've got between now and 2014 to figure this thing out," he said.

He said West Virginia leads the nation in deaths from particulates from power generation. He said 399 people die each year in West Virginia from particulates.

"This boondoggle will cripple West Virginia businesses," he said.

Allegheny lawyer John Melick said, "There is ample evidence of need."

He said an energy user group supported the project.

Public Service Commission lawyer Karen Short said that according to the Sierra Club, the new lines would facilitate the use of coal.

She said West Virginia law obligates the commission to develop resources such as coal.

She said line construction in West Virginia would cost $387 million.

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