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SCC directs Dominion to seek commission approval for towers

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has ruled that Dominion Virginia Power is required to seek prior commission approval before constructing a proposed transmission rebuild project across the Rappahannock River between Lancaster and Middlesex counties.

The SCC found that the proposed Rappahannock River transmission line crossing was not an ordinary extension or improvement in the usual course of business. As such, commission approval is required, reported SCC Division of Information Resources director Kenneth J. Schrad.

The ruling halts, at least temporarily, Dominion’s plan to build the transmission towers.

The proposed 1.9-mile transmission rebuild would be Dominion’s longest 115-kilovolt river crossing in Virginia, with 10 steel H-frame structures ranging from 102 to 173 feet tall, and would have certain attributes related to a higher voltage line. The proposed project also requires a new right-of-way, said Schrad. 

 The SCC ruling follows a petition for declaratory judgment and declaratory relief filed by William C. Barnhardt of Lancaster County on October 9. On October 19, the SCC issued a preliminary order enjoining Dominion from constructing the proposed transmission line until it was determined whether a Commission review was needed.

Barnhardt said the cost of the litigation is being paid by Save the Rappahannock Coalition, a citizens group working to stop the towers. The Lancaster Board of Supervisors has joined in the case against Dominion.

The SCC made no ruling approving or rejecting any proposed Rappahannock River crossing, said Schrad. The SCC’s order does not address the need, location, design, or appropriate voltage for any subsequent application from Dominion, as those issues will be the subject of the approval proceeding.

“I do not doubt the necessity of having a redundant line to provide electricity to and from our area,” said Barnhardt, owner of Willaby’s Restaurant adjacent to the Robert O. Norris Jr. Memorial Bridge. “The rush to do it is a bit confusing because VDOT requested Dominion remove the power lines from the bridge in 1988, 26 years ago.

“Looking ahead, I want everyone—Dominion, the local governments, local leaders and VDOT—to work together and find a good solution. I truly believe we can find a less expensive alternative,” said Barnhardt.

“I may not be an expert, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that this process was moving way too fast. Now, we have some time to look at the options more closely. I believe the SCC is the right place for that to happen, but I also believe we all can make the process work better by working together. No one party has a monopoly on expertise, judgment and common sense.

“This project is so important to our area that it’s almost impossible to overstate. We need to work together to get it right, and I do not believe the towers are necessarily the only viable option. I know a lot of very smart people who believe there are less-expensive ways to replace the existing line and deliver reliable electricity at less cost,” he said.

Dominion Power is reviewing whether to seek an appeal of the SCC decision, according to Dominion media relations representative Daisy Pridgen.

“The company is reviewing the SCC decision. The rebuild of the existing 115kV line is an important project to replace infrastructure originally built in 1962 and is nearing its end of operational lifespan,” said Pridgen. “Dominion plans to proceed with this important rebuild safely and in accordance with all requirements, as it does for each of its projects. The project needs to progress quickly to ensure customers in the Northern Neck region have reliable electric service for the future.”

posted 12.16.2015

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