By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Officials with Dominion Virginia Power announced last month that the utility will move forward with its long-dormant plan to run a 230-kilovolt transmission line through Alexandria.
Dominion representatives said the utility took more than a year to re-examine the need for the project in addition to considering other options to address a growing need for additional electrical infrastructure in Northern Virginia. But in the end, they determined a transmission line running from the Glebe Road substation to the site of the closed GenOn coal-fired power plant was still necessary, citing forecasts from regional grid operator PJM.
Dominion spokesman Chuck Penn said the utility plans to file a formal application for the project with the State Corporation Commission sometime this summer.
“It took even more of an extended period of time [than expected] for us to take a really hard, close look at the project itself and the load forecast in particular,” Penn said. “We also took some time to study in depth some additional options that we thought may have been there. But after thoroughly re-evaluating the engineering and plans to identify the right solutions, we came to the conclusion that we did identify the right solution in the Glebe to Potomac River project.”
The utility first floated the idea of running a new transmission line through the Port City in the summer of 2014. City officials, staff and residents were skeptical of Dominion’s plans, questioning the need for the project, its potential to impact residents during construction, and whether it would improve service for city residents or those in other jurisdictions.
Through the fall, a city-appointed, resident-led work group looked at nine potential routes for the transmission line as outlined by Dominion. Despite complaints by participants about the lack of information forthcoming from the utility, the group identified four “least objectionable” routes for the line: along the CSX tracks, along the Metro tracks, the George Washington Parkway and a route running underwater from Four Mile Run through the Potomac River.
Penn said Dominion hopes to find a route that works for both the utility and city residents.
“We certainly appreciate all the hard work that the city work group did studying the possible routes,” he said. “We hope to be able to identify a preferred route that is consistent with their least objectionable route analysis.”
For city officials, details about the project’s re-emergence remain sparse. Transportation director Yon Lambert said the city has worked hard on its end to keep residents informed and he hopes Dominion will be more open as it moves forward.
“All they have indicated at this point is that they plan to file a formal application [with state regulators] sometime this summer, and we’ve had no clarification about what that means,” Lambert said. “[Dominion] still plans to do its own formal public outreach, and they are essentially renewing some of the public outreach plans they were using previously. … We’re very hopeful in working with them we will be able to get the info that stakeholders are currently requesting and that we’ll be able to use that info when the city prepares its response.”
But others are not so optimistic. Elizabeth Chimento, former president of the North Old Town Independent Citizens Association and a member of the 2014 work group, said it was extremely frustrating to see representatives from the utility at every meeting, only for them to be mostly unwilling to elaborate on the company’s plans.
“At this point, all I can cite is the unfavorable communication process that occurred over those meetings, in which Dominion refused to tell us anything,” Chimento said. “With that background, I don’t know what we’re looking forward to, because the past has not been a working relationship at all.”
And Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said the city has many of the same reservations that it had when Dominion first proposed the transmission line.
“We have a lot of concerns about a lot of the proposed routes, and we’ll be digging into the analysis they performed as far as the need is concerned,” he said. “That said, our focus will be on a route that is least disruptive and it’ll have to be an underground route. … But the city is not the decider, the SCC is, so we’ll try to influence that process as best we can.”
Wilson said he hopes Dominion and the SCC will agree to have any hearings and meetings about the proposal in Alexandria. And Mayor Allison Silberberg reasserted concerns by some that the proposal would do more to help Loudoun County residents than Alexandrians.
“They said it’s for regional stability — and that means Alexandria and Arlington too,” Silberberg said. “Well, all of us are for regional stability and power, but while I feel for the people of Loudoun, my concern is solely focused on the citizens of Alexandria and whether you plan to tear up our streets and take a 13-foot trench.”