The Appalachian Power Company Along the New River: The Defeat of the Blue Ridge Project in Historical Perspective

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

The Appalachian Power Company is an operating company of the American Electric Power Company, the largest electricity producing private electric system in the United States since 1953. The Appalachian Power Company held almost exclusive development rights along the New River since its 1911 charter. From then until the 1940s, it built a few small dams, a very large hydroelectric dam with the highest generating capacity of its time, and the largest steam plant in Virginia on the New River. Besides a few navigation issues, conflicting developments, and brief clashes with the federal government, seen in Chapter Two of this thesis, the Appalachian Power Company's developments along the New River went largely unchallenged until the late-1960s.

The Blue Ridge Project was the utility's next large hydroelectric project on the New River. It was slated to impound the waters of the upper New River in Grayson County, Virginia, with two reservoirs extending into the river's headwaters in the counties of Ashe and Alleghany in northwestern North Carolina. Though the initial project met no serious opposition, environmental lawyers and the State of North Carolina defeated a considerably enlarged version of the proposal after a legal battle lasting over a decade. Why was this double impoundment not successfully constructed? What had changed in the last decades to influence Appalachian Power's previously unchallenged right to generate electricity along the New River? The purpose of this thesis is to answer these questions.

New River Valley, Appalachian Power Company, New River, Dams, Environmental Movement, Blue Ridge Project