The Clarke County Board of Supervisors spent much of their Tuesday work session discussing electricity generation and delivery, albeit for areas outside of Clarke County. Dominion power plants and lines topped the Supervisor’s agenda.
Representatives of Virginia Dominion Power told the Supervisors that Dominion’s Mt. Storm to Doubs 500 kilovolt (500kV) transmission line is a critical component of the electric grid that serves West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. The line was put into service in 1966 and, after more than four decades of operation, the structures and equipment are approaching the end of their expected service life and require replacement to maintain reliability.
Dominion is asking permission from regulators to remove existing structures and rebuild 96.4 miles of new 500kV line between Mt. Storm, West Virginia and the Potomac River/Maryland border. According to Dominion, rebuilding the line now will not require new right-of-way but will result in structures taller than currently in place.
Dominion power transmission line specialist Courtney Fisher told the supervisors said that the new line will reduces the risk of a major failure of the high-voltage network and increases capacity of the line by approximately 66 percent.
While the line that Dominion hopes to replace only touches two properties in the far northern area of Clarke County, the Supervisors expressed frustration at what several saw as poor planning by utilities resulting in multiple unsightly power lines.
Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) reprimanded the Dominion representatives for not coordinating their power line with the proposed PATH power line.
“I see transmission lines that run parallel for miles” said Supervisor Staelin. “It’s crazy to have this blight on the land when the lines could be put together on the same right-of-way. These lines are poorly planned and create a blight on everyone’s viewshed.”
Supervisor Barbara Byrd asked if Dominion had received any negative public feedback on the proposed tower heights, however, Dominion representative Fisher evaded Byrd’s question without giving a clear response. Byrd then questioned why Dominion could not bury the power lines rather than suspending the lines in the air. Dominon representative Emmett Toms told Byrd that there is legislation that permitted burial of transmission lines however burial costs must be paid for by the local municipality.
With Dominion representatives readily present to respond to questions and criticism, the Supervisors then turned their attention to the southern end of Clarke County that may soon receive acid rain and particulates from Dominion’s proposed power plant north of Front Royal, Virginia.
The facility, to be sited less than five miles from the Shenandoah National Park, will be the largest gas-fired power plant in Virginia. Clarke Supervisors expressed concern about the pollution and particulates that will be blown from the Warren County site into Clarke County.
While Clarke County government has no direct approval authority over the proposed power plant, Supervisors expressed anger that the environmental impacts of the plant was being forced on Clarke County while the electricity benefits flow to urban areas, often out-of-state.
Several Supervisors questioned if the power produced by the proposed facility would benefit Clarke County. Dominion representatives replied that it was difficult to specify exactly where the electrons produced by the Front Royal facility would ultimately flow, however, during peak heating and cooling periods the power would be used locally.
During the meeting Supervisors approved a letter to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, the oversight agency for the proposed power plant, expressing their concerns about the facility. While the Supervisors stopped short of opposing the power plant, the letter called for an additional public hearing on the potential negative impact of air quality in the northern Shenandoah Valley and the National Park. The letter also called for stricter emission controls than currently being proposed.
Regarding Dominion’s proposed timeline for changes to the Mt. Storm to Doubs 500 kilovolt (500kV) transmission line, the utility plans to spend Fall 2010 for outreach to stakeholders and regulatory entities for necessary approvals. If regulatory approvals are received, construction activities will begin in West Virginia in Spring 2011 and construction activities in Virginia in the Fall of 2011. Dominion hopes to energize the rebuilt lines in Summer 2015.