Dominion Virginia Power’s recent announcement that it would again seek approval of a plan to run a 230-kilovolt electrical transmission line through Alexandria is not a surprising one.
When we last left the issue, back in November 2014, the utility announced it would delay filing its proposal with the State Corporation Commission for a couple of months as they awaited new load projections from regional grid operator PJM. A few months quickly became a year, but officials always expected the issue would re-emerge.
Now that it has, we should do a quick recap. In the summer of 2014, representatives from Dominion came to Alexandria officials with their plans, and were met with skepticism in terms of whether the power line was needed in the first place, whether it would benefit Alexandria residents or instead the growth of data centers in Loudoun County, and how construction surrounding such a project could impact residents’ daily lives.
City council formed a work group to study the proposal and to recommend so-called “least objectionable” routes. The work group was able to secure a list of nine possible courses for the transmission line, but members complained they received little other information from the utility.
Fast forward to last month: Dominion officials told city leaders and announced on the company’s website that it would move forward with the project and file its formal application with state regulators over the summer. And although they said they “hope” to use a route that is consistent with the city work group’s recommendations, officials have received little else in information or assurances from the utility.
With the proposal back on the table, Alexandria leaders seem to be taking the right steps. They are asking for more information from Dominion; city council is poised to reconvene the resident-led work group and then formalize their recommendations into an official position ahead of the SCC application process. And they want public hearings on the issue to be held in Alexandria, not Richmond.
Going forward, the city must continue to put the utility’s feet to the fire in an effort to independently verify if the transmission is needed and, if so, to make sure it is placed along a route that will be least disruptive to residents.
But the onus is not solely on Alexandria’s local government. Dominion must step up and provide residents with a robust public outreach process to outline the necessity of the project, and be receptive to the community’s concerns. Despite attending the 2014 work group meetings and hosting a walkthrough of the different options for residents, the utility’s efforts have been lacking to this point.
It might be easier in the short term for Dominion to withhold information about their analysis until it makes its formal filing with the State Corporation Commission this summer. But making the additional effort to inform Alexandrians on the issue is the right thing to do. It might even lead to a smoother approval process down the line.