Dominion Virginia keeps mum on preferred transmission line route

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By Erich Wagner (Image/Ashleigh Carter)

Members of a new resident-led work group created to grapple with Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to run a transmission line through Alexandria did not mince words following the utility’s first presentation on the project.

“I’m just looking at statements here with nothing to back them up.”

“To have a [capacity] shortage of this magnitude and not know about it until June of this year seems a little irresponsive.”

“How can we function under the parameters you’ve set out for us on such a short time frame?”

Representatives of the utility company caught local authorities by surprise in June, when they informed City Hall of plans to potentially run a 230-kilovolt transmission line from Arlington to a proposed substation at the site of the closed GenOn coal-fired power plant in north Old Town. Dominion officials argue the line is needed and will improve the region’s power grid.

But City Hall worries the line will run through Potomac Yard, an area undergoing rapid redevelopment after years of planning. After lodging their complaints, city councilors formed the group — comprised of neighbors, community leaders and business owners from nearby neighborhoods — to liaise with Dominion.

Officials with the company have been elusive about the transmission’s route to the shuttered coal-fired plant along the Potomac, but revealed nine possibilities to the work group during its September 11 meeting. The options included the bank of the Potomac River, along the Metro and CSX tracks, U.S. Route 1, George Washington Parkway and even under smaller thoroughfares like Main Line Boulevard or Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road.

But Dominion representatives were unable to go into more detail, despite mounting frustration.

“We were under the understanding that we wouldn’t be delving into those that much,” said Deborah Tompkins Johnson, regional manager of state and local affairs for the utility, when asked about the routes. “We didn’t bring our routing coordinator with us.”

Work group members also seemed dissatisfied with Dominion’s insistence that running a transmission line through Alexandria is necessary without providing any supporting evidence. The utility plans to file an application for the project with the State Corporation Commission in November.

“So we can’t see any information about the cost or benefit analyses made on all of the [routes] until after your preferred alternative is chosen and the application is prepared to be presented to the SCC?” asked one member.

“That is correct,” said Peter Nedwick, a Dominion engineer.

“The analysis on the different alternatives and how we get to a preferred alternative is very numbers-driven,” added Tompkins Johnson. “[It] may be hard to accept but this is when the process for community input begins.

“As I say, we’re asking you to help us with that, and the other alternatives don’t go away when we file the application. They will be analyzed [by the state commission] as well.”

City councilors in attendance also barraged Dominion officials.

“We know it may seem early in the process for you guys, but for us it is the end of the process once that application is submitted,” said City Councilor Paul Smedberg. “There is only a month, a month and a half left for us to have any true impact on that application. And at this point, a decent draft of what you will propose is something I assume you would have by now.”

“I know I haven’t started my part of the application yet,” joked Nedwick.

In an interview after the meeting, Smedberg said most of Dominion’s proposed routes will have a devastating effect not only on neighborhoods as construction occurs, but on future redevelopment.

“It’s really going to be an issue with what we do for those areas up for redevelopment and how this impacts the development rights of the current owners,” Smedberg said. “There’s a whole host of issues related to that, and a couple people on the committee have said they’ll need more detail and more information to make an informed choice.”

Both officials and work group members are growing more suspicious as Dominion’s application date creeps closer.

“There’s some healthy skepticism,” Smedberg said. “While Dominion says they don’t know what a final route would be, many people in the community find that a little hard to believe. They know exactly what they want to do and have known for a while.”

The work group will meet again tonight at 7 p.m. in City Hall, and Dominion Power will host an open house October 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Community School.

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