Just like new transmission lines proposed to criss-cross the midwest to allow "wind" to interconnect with the existing transmission system are nothing more than gigantic generator lead lines, FirstEnergy's "Energizing the Future" campaign to build new substations and transmission in West Virginia are nothing more than gigantic service lines to new Marcellus shale processing plants.
Generator lead lines (the transmission necessary to connect a generator to the existing transmission system) are paid for by the generator. It's part of their cost of selling power, just like the rest of their plant.
So, why are service lines for new customers the responsibility of all customers? If I wanted to open a plastics factory in my backyard and asked Potomac Edison for service, I bet they'd charge me plenty... like the entire cost of the service line connected to whatever voltage I required for my plant, or the cost to upgrade existing lines to serve my plant.
The State Journal reports that FirstEnergy is building new transmission and substations in West Virginia to support the Marcellus shale industry.
Projects include the new Waldo Run transmission substation and a short 138-kilovolt transmission line in Doddridge County near Sherwood. The $52 million project is expected to support industrial users and enhance electric service to more than 6,000 customers in Doddridge, Harrison and Ritchie counties. The substation will accommodate additional load growth at a new natural gas processing facility, which consumes large amounts of electricity separating natural gas into dry and liquid components.
FirstEnergy is also working on a 138-kilovolt transmission line that will support the natural gas industry, as well as enhance service reliability for nearly 13,000 customers in the Clarksburg and Salem areas. The 18-mile, $55 million Oak Mound-Waldo Run transmission project is expected to be placed into service by December 2015.
The company is also evaluating additional transmission upgrades as new service requests from shale gas developers continue throughout the Mon Power territory. FirstEnergy is currently evaluating new transmission facilities in Wetzel County to support a midstream gas processing plant that continues to expand.
So, what is FirstEnergy telling the landowners affected by their new, Marcellus-supporting projects?
FirstEnergy has identified the reliability risk of low voltage conditions on the transmission system under certain conditions. The proposed project addresses the reliability issues. Its assessment is based on existing conditions and the need for system reliability to safely meet the electrical needs of the region now and into the future.
It seems that FirstEnergy has two stories here. The one for its investors is all about building things to support Marcellus. The one for ratepayers is about building things to support existing customers. Obviously, one of these stories isn't exactly honest.
Why isn't the Marcellus industry paying the cost of new electric facilities to support its business?
Why are West Virginia electric consumers, who have been subject to more and more rate increases recently, being asked to pay the cost of harvesting Marcellus gas? Isn't the gas industry in West Virginia profitable enough without subsidies provided by ratepayers?
And if that isn't bad enough, FirstEnergy's transmission scheme is all about pumping more and more "transmission spend" into its transmission subsidiaries, like TrAILCO, that earn a sweet 12.7% return on equity courtesy of federal transmission rates. In addition, these lower voltage transmission lines are beyond the jurisdiction of state regulators. As noted on FirstEnergy's "fact sheet:"
TrAILCo will submit a letter to the staff of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia advising them of the project.
In most locations, a new 150-foot wide right-of-way will be needed for the proposed transmission line. In a few locations, the new right-of-way will be 200 feet wide.
Who loses? Ratepayers. Again.