AEP to spend $70M on line upgrades

BEVERLY – As plans continue toward the closing of American Electric Power’s coal-fired Muskingum River Plant, the company is upgrading two main transmission lines that carry electricity between the Beverly facility and AEP’s Philip Sporn Power Plant in Mason County, W.Va.

The $70 million project will be done along existing AEP Ohio rights of way through Athens, Meigs, Morgan and Washington counties in Ohio, and in Mason County in West Virginia. The cost will be covered through an average additional 15 cents a month on residential power bills after the project is completed.

“Fifty miles of line that carry 345,000 volts between the Muskingum River and Sporn facilities will be improved during the project,” said Brett Schmied, project outreach specialist with AEP Ohio Transmission Company.

He said retirement of the Muskingum River Plant by the end of 2015, due to stricter federal air emission regulations, has required the company to upgrade some transmission lines that could become overloaded after the Beverly plant is taken off line.

Schmied said at this time no power outages that would impact customers are planned during the project which is expected to begin in August of this year and, weather permitting, will end by June 1, 2015.

“We’re expecting minimal impact on our customers during this project,” he said.

The project has been planned for some time, and Schmied said the plans were filed with agencies in Ohio and West Virginia, including township trustees, county commissioners and county engineers.

Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said during a phone call he discussed potential issues like overweight vehicles on county roadways and accessibility to power company rights of way during construction.

“My main concern is providing access to their right of way. I don’t know that they will need it, but they could require some temporary access driveways to the project sites,” Wright said. “And I was told that some of the work could be done by helicopter, so less right of way access may be needed.”

Schmied said a few temporary access roads may have to be constructed along the right of way, especially where existing towers and other structures must be replaced. He said about 14 towers will be replaced, but none of those are in Washington County.

“Eight are in West Virginia, and the rest in Ohio, and all are located on AEP property,” he said. “We plan to begin setting foundations for those structures that need replacement in early fall, before the weather turns cold. Actual line replacement will begin in late winter or early spring of 2015.”

Schmied said wherever possible helicopters would be used to string the replacement power lines.

In Washington County the project will run from the Muskingum River Plant to AEP’s gas-fired Waterford Station Plant, traveling through Decatur, Fairfield, Palmer, Waterford and Watertown townships.

Carthage, Rome and Troy townships in Athens County, Chester, Letart, Orange and Sutton townships in Meigs County and Windsor Township in Morgan County are along the project route.

“This is a long-plan process that AEP has worked out with PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) which gave them permission to do the project,” Wright said. “The company has asked about local permits required and we directed them to the permits they’ll need.”

Other than making sure heavy equipment does not overburden county roadways or right of way access roads, he expects the county will have little involvement with the power line upgrade project.

“This project is to maintain electrical livability for a large number of people in the Southeast Ohio and West Virginia areas,” Schmied said. “And there will be more outreach to the community as we get closer to the start of construction and have a better idea of areas that will be impacted during the project, especially in locations where helicopters may be working on the lines.”

Detailed information about the project is available at the Washington County Public Library on Fifth Street in Marietta, and through the Ohio Power Siting Board of the PUCO in Columbus.