Dominion to move forward on transmission line plan

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Dominion to move forward on transmission line plan
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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Representatives with Dominion Virginia Power recently told Alexandria officials they plan to move forward with their long-dormant proposal to run a new transmission line through the city later this fall.

In an August 19 letter addressed to City Manager Mark Jinks, Ben Saunders, a senior siting and permitting specialist with the utility, said his company plans to file an application with the State Corporation Commission to pursue two options to increase Dominion’s grid capacity and reliability in Northern Virginia.

The first option would be to install an underground 230-kilovolt transmission line along the CSX train tracks to connect the Glebe substation in Arlington County with the Potomac River substation by the closed GenOn power plant.

The second proposal — called Alternative One — would replace and increase the current capacity of an existing underground 230-kilovolt transmission line that runs from a Potomac Yard substation to one in Carlyle, running partially along U.S. Route 1.

The choice of the CSX tracks as the proposed route for the option that involves installing a new transmission line appears to be a victory for city officials and members of a resident-led work group appointed in 2014 to study Dominion’s proposal. The group was shown nine possible routes for the line, and listed the train tracks as the “least objectionable.”

“I think it’s good news for the city that both of these options are underground,” said Yon Lambert, director of the city department of transportation and environmental services. “That’s something that has been very important to the stakeholders up to this point. … From the city’s perspective, the option that they are calling the 230 kV Potomac to Glebe project, it’s good that that line aligns with the city’s least objectionable alternative.”

Judy Noritake, who served on the work group that compiled the list of least and most objectionable routes, said she was pleasantly surprised by the choice of the CSX route.

“The fact that they chose and have apparently determined the feasibility of putting that line along the CSX corridor is a huge, huge victory for the city,” she said. “For it to be underground, on the CSX right of way, I would not have bet you $5 two years ago that would happen.

“In my view, Dominion looked really hard at the input this community had and listened to us around the table. I’ve served on a lot of task groups in Alexandria, but this is probably the best I ever sat on.”

And Mayor Allison Silberberg touted Dominion’s proposal for the fact that both options keep power lines underground.

“The good news is Dominion put forward two alternatives that are, in the proposal, both shown to e underground in Alexandria,” Silberberg said. “That’s really good, because that has been a top concern. We are awaiting more info from Dominion with regard to the specifics, and then once we get that specific info from them, we will be reconvening the work group, which has been excellent, to go over these considerations and the two options.”

But the inclusion of Alternative One in Dominion’s planned filing with the SCC has some in the city worried. Although it was one of the earliest proposals for dealing with increased demand on the electrical grid in 2014, it was not thoroughly examined by city officials because of the utility’s focus on the Potomac to Glebe transmission line proposal.

Dominion spokesman Chuck Penn said in an email that Alternative One would replace about three miles of existing 230-kilovolt transmission line cables in Alexandria, as well as several miles of cables in Fairfax County. He said the utility will not know the full construction impact in Alexandria until officials can better assess the condition of the existing line and infrastructure.

“At this point, the city is still waiting on some additional specifics from Dominion about what it will entirely entail,” Lambert said. “We’re not 100 percent clear how much excavation would be required within the city. What they’ve indicated to us at this point is there would be little excavation, but I want to be really clear that we don’t have all the details yet, and they have some tech work to do on their own.”

Noritake said she wants to know more about how well Alternative One would improve the utility’s grid capacity, in addition to any local construction impacts.

“I have a lot of questions,” she said. “How much capacity and redundancy does this give us into the future? Are you just kicking the can down the street for another 10 years and then come back and want a new line anyway? That’s kind of the nature of my questions.

“What does that [project] get you, and does it get you where you want to be 30 years from now? That said, if it can give you the same assurance for the same amount of time [as the CSX project], why not just upgrade what you have?”

Penn said Dominion plans to host an open house later this fall ahead of the utility’s filing with the SCC, which is expected by the end of this year.

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